Social Media Improving Police-Resident Relationships

What’s the biggest advantage to using social media as a police agency? It isn’t sharing information; it is connecting with communities.

What’s the biggest advantage to using social media as a police agency? It isn’t sharing information; it is connecting with communities.

In 2011, social media and the law have had a tumultuous relationship. Several civil disturbances, including the riots in London in August 2011, saw social media play a significant role both in terms of organization and instigation. However, the police spokeswoman at Boynton Beach Stephanie Slater says that social media is an important part of police interaction and communications. She notes: “We wouldn’t effectively be doing our job if we weren’t using it.”

A new study released by the International Association of Chiefs of Police Center for Social Media confirms this sentiment. The study, which surveyed 800 agencies, reveals that 53.1 percent of agencies using social media reported noticing an improvement in resident-police interaction. Of the 800 agencies surveyed, 88 percent said they used social media.

One effective use of social media in policing is sharing information. Hyperlinks, news releases, and alerts can be quickly shared on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. However, according to Massachusetts social media law enforcement strategist, Lauri Stevens, it is community engagement that is most useful for police agencies. She notes: “That’s why it’s called social media, right?”

However, Stevens concedes, that when you’re the police department it isn’t always easy to find friends and followers. Not only may government agencies seem like unappealing “friends” to some users, it can be difficult to create consistently engaging content. Stevens notes: “It’s a process and I think that they have to start small and they have to grow their use of social media.”

The press release for the study notes that Boynton Beach provided a good example of police force social media use. Though creating engagement was “slow to start”, the Boynton Beach police department is slowly building fans and followers. As of No.18, they had almost 3,000 followers on Twitter and 2,000 friends on Facebook. Further, earlier this year, Boynton Police Chief Matt Immler used a live streaming video on Ustream.tiv to speak to residents. For this video, residents could ask questions via Facebook, Twitter of Ustream.tiv and Immler was able to answer.

“Police” and “social media” may not be words that you imagined putting in a sentence together, but this study suggests social media can be used effectively by police. As with any social media strategy, the keys are patience and engagement.