The Social Media Beat

Community Outreach through Social Media: An Agency-Wide Approach

Community Outreach through Social Media: An Agency-Wide Approach

By: Guest Blogger
Date: Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Guest Blogger

The Social Media Beat periodically features guest bloggers who share their perspective on the topic of social media and law enforcement.

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Lt. Andy Johnson is a 15-year veteran of the Hanover Park, IL Police Department.  He currently serves as Commander of Investigations and oversees detectives, special operations, and crime analysis.  Andy has served in a variety of roles within the Hanover Park PD including patrol sergeant, detective, special operations officer, and patrol officer.  Andy led a committee tasked with developing a social media outreach initiative for the Hanover Park Police Department, known as the Police and Citizens Connected (PACC) Program.  The PACC Program is a department-wide initiative which includes a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other applications.

Much has been written regarding the hesitation amongst many law enforcement agencies to embrace the growing trend towards social media.  While there are clear advantages, there are significant concerns for agency administrators to consider, ranging from privacy and confidentiality issues, manpower demands, technological capabilities of staff, and many others.  These concerns existed within the Hanover Park Police Department as well.  Our agency of 61 sworn officers serving a population of around 38,000 had sought a means to enhance community outreach as part of a wider policing strategy focused on community policing and partnerships between officers and residents.  An inevitable foray into investigating social media as a means to accomplish this was conducted.  The staggering statistics regarding the use of social media amongst all age groups shifted the question from ‘why social media?’ to ‘why not social media?’ quite quickly.

As we set forth, we knew that we didn’t want to simply open up a Facebook page or Twitter account just to say we did it—nor did we want to flesh out an idea that would become another dusty binder on a shelf.  What we wanted was a program that would not only accomplish our outreach goal but also something that would become a lasting organizational philosophy.  A committee was established to brainstorm and provide a framework for what would become the Police and Citizens Connected (PACC) Program.  What we sought specifically from PACC was a means to enhance the flow of information both in and out—we wanted to enhance our ability to communicate emergency alerts, useful information, crime tips, and other messages to the public, while at the same time providing a more convenient, accessible avenue of contact for the residents to reach us.  Facebook would serve as the backbone for the program, with a main page for the department’s overall message while each beat area would also have their own ‘fansite’ page, run by the sergeant in charge of that area.  A Nixle account would provide a means for immediate communication of threats and emergency alerts.  A YouTube account was also created to store larger video files, and we purchased the smartphone application known as MyPD to allow residents to send anonymous tips and more.

A little over a year later, our program has reached some milestones. We recently passed 1,000 ‘likes’ on our main Facebook page, and the PACC Program has been well-received by residents and community stakeholders.  While we know there are always improvements to be made, we feel we are headed in the right direction.  Below, I would like to share some lessons learned and discussion points for those considering implementing a similar program.

Avoid the “Man Behind the Curtain.”  We knew that in order for this initiative to become an agency-wide philosophy, we needed buy-in and participation at all levels.  From the beginning of the project, officers from all levels of the department were included in its design.  Additionally, the program is designed to include participation on a daily basis from many members of the department.  In this sense, there is no mystery ‘man behind the curtain’ who is the only person responsible for PACC.  This keeps engagement levels high, helps ensure quality and diversity of content, and prevents issues related to posting delays and stagnation.  Reasonable and clear accountability measures were put in place for those responsible for running pages and posting to further ensure that PACC would become a part of everyday operations.

Be Prepared for Unexpected ‘Bumps.’  Social media applications can change in design frequently and with little or no warning.  Part of the acceptance process of social media is realizing that we can’t control the entire process—something that can be difficult when we are used to maintaining control.  Once applications are implemented, they must be reviewed on a consistent basis to determine their continued feasibility, and others may over time become better options than first thought.  For example, PACC did not initially include Twitter; however, after listening to feedback from residents and other stakeholders, we implemented it several months into the program.  There are also First Amendment considerations regarding the removal of posts, for which a removal policy was created and posted on the site.  This brought about another area of need for relaxing control somewhat—sometimes posts that may not paint the department in the best light must stay up despite our natural impulse to remove them.  However, communicating with ‘unhappy’ residents quickly—and providing them with an outlet for assistance with their issue—not only addresses the individual resident’s concern but it also shows everyone watching that we are in fact responsive to all resident concerns.

Be Prepared for Some Resistance to Change.
  Resisting change is a part of human nature, and something law enforcement managers deal with on a regular basis.  Moving into social media can be an intimidating departure for some agency personnel, and it may necessitate a process of education and training that will require patience.  Officers may have privacy concerns and some less computer-savvy officers may struggle at first with their postings and participation.  To confront this, HPPD staff involved in the project created training presentations and spent considerable one-on-one time with officers who needed it.  Officers responsible for posting had to create generic ‘work-only’ Facebook accounts and personnel had to be educated regarding privacy concerns such as not intermixing personal and work accounts.  We also realized that our agency lacked a written social media policy.  Therefore, one was created and all personnel trained on it.  As PACC gained steam and became a part of the daily operations of the department, these issues became a thing of the past.
Overall, we feel that the PACC Program has been a positive addition to the department and provides an excellent service to the community.  It allows us to meet our residents where they are, and keeps officers interested and engaged in meeting our outreach goals.
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    So you have found, or perhaps stumbled upon, The Social Media Beat, the blog for the IACP Center for Social Media Web site. The Social Media Beat is about three things: social media, law enforcement, and perspective. Here you will find a fresh outlook on the issues that are affecting law enforcement agencies and their personnel when it comes to social media.

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    Dionne Waugh

    Dionne Waugh is the Digital Communications Manager for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which is the largest, full-service sheriff’s office in the state of Colorado. Prior to that, she spent more than six years creating and leading the Richmond, Virginia, Police Department’s social media efforts, which led to international acclaim and recognition.

    She has spoken about law enforcement and social media at more than a dozen conferences across the country in addition to four IACP annual conferences. Waugh is a former newspaper reporter who wrote about crime, police, and the court system for several years. That experience and an ingrained curiosity for what makes people tick has fueled her desire to improve communication between people. Follow Dionne on Twitter @JeffCoSheriffCo.

    IACP Center for Social Media

    IACP's Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel to develop or enhance their agency's use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations. The Center is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

    Leon Robertson

    Officer Leon Robertson is the Social Media Coordinator for the Hampton Police Division. Robertson has developed internationally recognized public safety messages, including the Jingle Bells “Holiday Safety Remix” in December 2013. He has extensive experience in graphic design, video & audio production, and managing various social media platforms. You can follow Officer Robertson’s efforts with the Hampton Police Division on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

    Tracy Phillips

    Tracy is a Senior Project Specialist with the IACP. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the Web site and coordinating the site's social networking plan. In addition, Ms. Phillips provides writing, editorial, and technical assistance on a variety of association projects and activities, including police management studies, job analyses, executives searches, federal grants, and various research projects and proposals. She has more than 10 years of experience in state and local government, including work as a management analyst, performance auditor, and crime analyst. Ms. Phillips holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from Clemson University.

    Want to hear more from Tracy Phillips? Follow her and the Discover Policing team on TwitterFacebook, and on the Inside Discover Policing blog. You can also network with other police recruitment professionals in the Law Enforcement Recruitment LinkedIn group.

    Zach Perron

    Lieutenant Zach Perron is the public affairs manager for the Palo Alto (CA) Police Department. Zach was a 2014 visiting fellow at the IACP in the Center for Social Media. He serves on the steering committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG), and is a member of the US. Department of Homeland Security's Virtual Social Media Working Group (VSMWG). He holds a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Stanford University and is now pursuing a graduate education at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California.  You can follow him on Twitter: @zpPAPD.

    Dave Norris

    Sergeant Dave Norris is a 21 year veteran of the City of San Mateo Police Department. He has worked in a number of positions including Juvenile Detective, Field Training Officer, Narcotics Detective, and Patrol Supervisor. Dave is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations and oversees day-to-day functions that involve the relationship between the police, the community, and the media. Dave is dedicated to the increase of community engagement through the use of social media. Under his management, San Mateo PD's direct subscribers to community alerts and public safety messaging has grown from several hundred to over 22,000.

    Chris Hsiung

    Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. Through the department Community Action and Information Unit (CAIU), he manages strategy, community engagement, and growth through the police department social media channels. Chris has been serving the Mountain View community for over 19 years and has held a variety of assignments within MVPD. These include detective assignments in Property Crimes, Person Crimes, and High Tech Crimes as well as collateral assignments on SWAT and the Field Evidence Team. He also serves on the planning committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG). You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

    Lynn Hightower

    Lynn is the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the Boise Police Department and has served in that role since October, 2003. Lynn also serves at the PIO for the Boise Fire Department. Lynn authors and manages the social media outreach for Boise Police and often acts as media spokesperson. She advises officers from patrol to command staff on media and public communications skills. Lynn joined the Boise Police Department after 17 years as a television reporter, producer, anchor, and news director. Lynn regularly instructs new officers at the Boise Police Academy and has given media and public communications presentations to dozens of federal, state, and local emergency responder agencies. Follow Lynn and Boise Police on Twitter @BoisePD.

    Billy Grogan

    Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department in Georgia. Chief Grogan was hired on December 17, 2008, after serving 28 years with the Marietta, Georgia, Police Department, to start a brand new department. On April 1, 2009, the Dunwoody Police Department began operations with 40 sworn officers and eight civilians providing police services to the 47,000+ residents of the City of Dunwoody. Chief Grogan embraced the use of social media from day one of operations. The Dunwoody Police Department began using Twitter the first day and has added Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vine to their arsenal since then as effective tools to market their department and engage their community. Chief Grogan has written about the benefits of law enforcements use of social media, participated in several social media focus groups and lectured at the IACP, Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, COPS Conference, and many other venues. Follow Chief Grogan on Twitter @ChiefGrogan and the Dunwoody Police Department @DunwoodyPolice.

    Mark Economou

    Mark Economou is the Public Information Officer for the Boca Raton Police Department in Boca Raton, Florida. His media and public relations background spans nearly 20 years. Spending nearly 15 years in radio and television news, Economou held many positions from assignment editor, reporter, anchor, and executive editor. After that, he served as the Director of Media Relations for Cote & D'Ambrosio, a Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising firm in Wickford, RI. He then served as head of Media Relations for Citizens Bank of Rhode Island, the 9th largest bank in the United States. Follow Mark on Twitter @BocaPolice.

    Frank Domizio

    Corporal Frank Domizio has been with the Philadelphia Police Department since 1997. He is currently assigned to the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Lab as a Forensic Examiner. Previously he was assigned to the Department's Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs where he was the Social and Digital Media Manager. Frank has spoke at several industry conferences and major universities on the topics of social media and content strategy.

    Tim Burrows

    Tim Burrows was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations, and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing, and crisis communications. Tim left policing but has remained involved through consulting with law enforcement on the advancement of communications and social media. Tim runs #CopChat on Wednesday nights at 9pm ET, to allow police and community members to connect and break down barriers. To learn more about him you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or click here to contact him

    Guest Blogger

    The Social Media Beat periodically features guest bloggers who share their perspective on the topic of social media and law enforcement. These individuals are law enforcement professionals; sworn and civilian personnel from agencies of all types and sizes throughout the world. If you are interested in guest blogging, please send your request to All bloggers must be affiliated with a law enforcement agency or educational institution. We cannot accept blog entries from vendors or others working in a for-profit capacity.

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