As law enforcements use of social media grows, the public’s thirst for more information continues to rise exponentially. Not only does the public want more information, they also want it right now. When should police departments provide information about ongoing, in progress incidents and when should they not provide this information?
This question is not easily answered since no two communities are alike and no two incidents are the same. However, some basic guidelines can be helpful to understand the overall concept of publishing real time incident information and the value to the organization and potential pitfalls as well. How law enforcement agencies handle posting in progress incident information varies greatly across the country. Some departments are quick to post information while others rarely post information about in progress incidents. Some departments, like @SeattlePD
has even created a program titled Tweets by Beat where incidents are tweeted to different beat Twitter accounts directly from CAD. A delay is built into this model for security.
One of the most important considerations before pushing information out to your social media channels should be officer safety. Will publishing the information make the incident more dangerous for officers? Information about certain in progress incidents involving armed suspects, foot chases, in progress fights, protests, and similar events might be better disseminated once the incident is under control or over.
Another consideration is the integrity of the incident scene. Will publishing information about the incident cause the public to travel to the incident location and possibly tamper with or contaminate the crime scene? Again, when in doubt, delay posting information about the incident until it can be secured.
A significant portion of the public is very interested in what is happening in their neighborhood the most. Posting information about a traffic enforcement detail or the reason a large number of police officers might be in their neighborhood is important. In addition, the public is very interested in what is happening on the streets and around the city that might interfere with their commute to and from work as well as their business.
In general, consider posting information about incidents that may create traffic delays as soon as possible. However, unless there are circumstances that dictate the need to post in progress incident details, a better approach may be to wait until the incident has stabilized and there is no threat to officer safety or scene integrity.