Social Media for Law Enforcement-DC Public Safety-213,000 Requests a Month

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– Audio begins –

Len Sipes: From my microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes, and today’s program is about social media in law enforcement, how the law enforcement community and eventually, hopefully, the entire criminal justice community will take on social media. What is social media? It’s websites, it’s blogs, it’s Twitter, it’s Facebook, it’s radio, it’s television. It’s basically a way of communicating with citizens. It’s a way of making sure that citizens and your criminal justice entity or your police department is having a meaningful conversation. You’re giving them interesting stuff to listen to or watch, and they’re giving you good information in return about what’s going on in their communities or how your police department or criminal justice agency can do a better job. Our guests today are Dan Alexander. He is Chief of Police of the Boca Raton, Florida, Police Department, and I’ll be giving out everything that Dan does in his website in a couple of seconds. Laurie Stevens, she is the Chair of Web Design for the New England Institute of Art, but interestingly enough, she’s putting on a conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement, the SMILE Conference on April 7, 8, and 9 in Washington, DC, but before we get into our program, the usual commercial, we are way beyond 200,000 request in the monthly basis for DC Public Safety Radio Television blog and transcripts, media.csosa.com. We are incredibly appreciative of all the e-mails that you get back to us with the comments that you get back to us in terms of our products. If you want to get back in touch with me directly, it’s Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P not T but P E-S @C-S-O-S-A.gov or you can follow me via Twitter at twitter/lenssipes. One word. Back to our guest, Dan Alexander, Chief of Police, Boca Raton, and Laurie Stevens, New England Institute of Art, the person in charge of the SMILE conference. Welcome to DC Public Safety.

Laurie Stevens: Thanks, Len.

Len Sipes: Laurie, we’re going to go with your first. Now, what does the Chair of Web Design of the New England Institute of Art? You get this hoitsy-toitsy sense of free flowing artist, mixed up with the mundane, everyday world of law enforcement. How did you get involved with working with law enforcement?

Laurie Stevens: Well, it’s really the other half of that title is Web Design and Interactive Media. Certainly social media is part of that interactive media world, and so as part of my job at the college, I’m certified in social media as a strategist and I make it part of my work to stay on top of those things, and then I have been working with law enforcement just with a couple of departments that I have been friends with for a number of years and it just kind of grew from there. People started noticing the work that we were doing, and all of a sudden I was doing more and more, and then I got on Twitter and all of a sudden I was kind of catapulted into this arena and decided to go with it, and that was some months back, so now it’s just such a huge part of my life. But the two worlds come together right at the intersection with social media.

Len Sipes: And Dan, now, let’s see. You have done everything. I’m very impressed. www.bocaviper.com is your website. Now you do Twitter, you do Facebook, you do MySpace, you do interactive mapping, you do e-mail alerts, you do offender notifications, you do a television show, you do a blog. That is just both admirable and interesting, but you say the key issue here is not the fact that you’re doing social media; it’s what you’re accomplishing for the citizens of Boca Raton.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I think you can’t forget your fundamental mission whenever you decide to take something new on like social media, and that mission is to be a community policing organization, community-oriented in the way we approach our business, so keeping that in mind, it’s really a matter of connecting and how you connect with people and how you push information. I think there’s some other interesting parts that also fall in, in terms of how the media covers, how media has changed. I think that social media falls right in line with our orientation to be better connected, to be more transparent, and to insure that we’re getting the word out.

Len Sipes: Now you know it’s interesting because this can be manipulative. I do social media here, radio, television, blog, and transcript at DC Public Safety, and it’s to the point where you can control your own media to a large degree. You’re no longer dependent upon mainstream media. You’re no longer dependent upon the newspaper and the television stations and the radio stations to get word out to the public. You can do that at your time and at your leisure and at a pace that you control.

Dan Alexander: Yeah. What’s interesting about that is that when we started to do this, we had a media outlet come cover us and actually they quoted a professor that expressed concern that we would be putting our spin on the news, and really at first we were taken aback, but the issue really is adding another layer and I think that’s what we’ve tried to explain to people is that our test is not to try to replace traditional media as a source of information, but to add another layer such that people can get a different view or just fundamentally get the information because media is not covering nearly as much as it used to.

Len Sipes: Laurie, is there an issue where anybody should be concerned about it? We are under a real obligation to, when we use the social media channels, to talk about everything, warts and all, correct?

Laurie Stevens: Right. And I think, well, Dan’s point is, it’s what I love about the work he does. Initially he had this – I believe it was a television station he was saying, was taken aback by the fact that he was putting out his information himself, but he embraced that, and what he’s saying is its just one more layer. He’s not trying to replace the media; nobody really is. It’s just trying to get more information. When you think about it, the police departments have a lot of good information that the media just doesn’t want to cover. It’s just not worthy of the 6:00 news in their opinion. Another department I work with had, very early on when they went on Twitter for example, a citizen was surprised and commented, they didn’t know they had crime in their town because the cops were tweeting all night long and during the day of what they were coming across. So it really is expanding the amount of information that’s getting out to citizens in any community, so we’re fortunate enough to have this.

Len Sipes: The individual police officers were tweeting?

Laurie Stevens: Oh, yeah.

Len Sipes: That’s interesting.

Laurie Stevens: Dan, you’ve got some individual police officers tweeting, but I know of several departments that have police officers tweeting, and then in one case, we tweeted into the official police stream, the tweets of each officer as they tweet, and we put that right on their homepage. So the citizens can see that some of these officers are tweeting and maybe a photo of an arrest they made during the night, not any kind of confidential information, but if it was a bad DUI arrest and getting out those DUI messages time and time again, and the citizens are seeing this is happening in their own town the night before as opposed to maybe somewhere else where they think it doesn’t happen here, so they’re realizing this stuff does happen. It happens every single night right here where I live, and it really opens their eyes and ears to these messages.

Dan Alexander: I think that it raises some serious policy issues about how you approach media, and I think one of the distractions in the self media debate has been well, now we have to write a whole new policy on social media. I wouldn’t necessarily say that that’s not the case. I think that the way we recognize it is it’s another form of media, so the policies are going to be pretty consistent with the way we deal with the regular media, so definitely seeing some negative impacts of social media in some cases, but again, I think we just have to realize it’s media and our policies should be pretty consistent.

Laurie Stevens: But those negative impacts, Dan, wouldn’t you say that those negative things that you’re talking about would have happened or in the same way? In other words, these officers aren’t having to learn anything new in terms of how to be officers; they just have new tools.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely.

Laurie Stevens: If they’re going to do things that they probably shouldn’t be doing, they’re probably going to exercise that poor judgment in another way even without social media.

Dan Alexander: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a tool, and obviously many tools can be used properly or improperly.

Len Sipes: But the bottom line is that because we had sort of an esoteric conversation thus far, and my sense is that for the kids in the audience, and I’m being really stereotypical here because I know a 1000 times more about social media than my daughters, but for the kids out there, they’re going to say yeah, I understand intrinsically what it is that you’re saying. For the criminal justice community listening to this program, the bottom line is that you capture bad guys, you have conversations with the community that helps them, that makes them feel better about the police department, you accomplish operational objectives through social media, so this is, to you from what I understand, Dan, in terms of our conversation before the show, this is just as important to you as having a sufficient number of police cars. This is just as important to you as having radio communications between your dispatchers and your officers. This is just a tool to help lower crime rates and to get information to citizens so they can take their own action. This is an operational issue, right?

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I think you look at it from that perspective and also from public relations and marketing perspective, and from the operational standpoint, I can think of two examples of how it’s had a direct impact, the first being a theft of a flat screen television out of the local mall. A video that we put online as part of our social media outreach and a witness picking up on the suspect in the video, and then passing that information along to us and us clearing a case and recovering property. Another instance from the intelligence perspective is a local criminal enterprise had taken root and their use of social media and using our resources and our investigators looking at their material, and without getting too much into it, developing information that was critical to developing a case on organized criminal enterprise, so those are two examples of how social media has a real impact in terms of law enforcement.

Len Sipes: We’re going to be having the Chief of the Community Oriented Policing Program from the U.S. Department of Justice on our air in a couple of weeks, and one of the reasons why he is coming in is for the very reasons that we’re talking about, that the more information that you get out to the community and the more interaction that you have, the more that they’re going to give to you in terms of your ability to keep them safe or solve crimes.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I think that’s the other part of it, is making the connection. I think if we’re brutally honest about our ability, we’re really the intervening variable. You have your community and the involvement of your citizens, and at the end the result is your quality of life and level of crime. We’re in the middle of that equation, and we’re absolutely dependent on a resident not only in terms of providing information on criminals, but also taking care of themselves. I think that the majority of us, unfortunately, have property crime to deal with and obviously violent crime, but typically property crime is the major portion of what we deal with and much of that can be prevented just by getting the right message out in terms of crime prevention, so there are so many different angles to the social media thing that are important in my mind.

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Laurie, please.

Laurie Stevens: I was just going to kind of piggyback on what he saying. I think in terms of sharing more information in both directions, a lot of what is happening here, and it’s getting back to the word social and social media, it’s the building of relationships and the building of trust between law enforcement and their community. Even though they’re still the cops and you’re still the citizen and they still have the authority, something else is happening in that whole area of trust in one another, and I think that is really key. It’s not very tangible, but that’s really key in why there’s more information going back and forth because there’s trust being built.

Len Sipes: Right. And whether it’s done electronically or whether it’s done face to face, the bottom line is trust. Trust gets you more information. It prompts the community to take greater action to protect themselves. I mean, it’s a win-win situation all around.

Laurie Stevens: Well, it’s absolutely going back to the beats, the community policing philosophy, in my mind. I’m not a cop and Dan will speak to that lots better than I will, but it’s really getting back to those relationships. With this technology, you can build more relationships faster.

Len Sipes: Now speaking of relationships, this question goes out to either one of you when I’m going to tie it into the conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement Conference. If people are interested in this, it’s April 7, 8, and 9 in Washington, DC. It’s called the SMILE Conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement, that’s how SMILE comes out. It’s theSMILEconference.com, so it’s www.theSMILEconference.com or http://theSMILEconference.com, April 7, 8, 9 in Washington, DC. Social Media in Law Enforcement. The reason I’m so enthused about this conference is the fact that it helps us talk to people in the criminal justice system and it helps us to promote social media because, again, I had this conversation with another national criminal justice organization this morning. People are simply wary of doing this. They’re afraid to do it because they live in sort of a protected bubble. They have this sense that the less news there is the better off for everybody, and that’s just the antithesis of what it is that we’re trying to do through social media, but that fear does exist within the criminal justice system, does it not? Either one of you.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. Yeah. Obviously it’s changed and unknown and that’s a concern for people that like their world in order, but beyond that we are very secretive. Laurie knows that I wrote a piece early on, basically five or six barriers to law enforcement use of social media. It’s fast and we’re not. We obviously develop cases and move things along, and it takes time. Social media is immediate, so there are some barriers there. We are very cynical and protective, by nature, of our information, and so that works against us in that respect. We’re also suspect in terms of our relationships with people. I don’t want someone following me or being my friend or fan that I don’t know too well, because I like gathering intelligence on the people that I have relationships with if I’m thinking from a traditional police perspective, so there are a number of reasons why I think there hesitancy on our part to get involved.

But going back to what you said earlier, connecting electronically, it’s interesting about what we first got out there on Twitter in particular, we would get the feedback, Boca Police is following me – I guess I should slow down. Things like that that you know are out there that people are thinking. Or Boca Chief shows up as a follower, okay, it even makes people nervous to a certain extent, but I think it’s a great icebreaker. I really do. People see that you’re involved in this form. I think that they think more in terms of accessibility and the fact that we’re people too, so I think we’ve got to start turning some of that negative into positive.

Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guests today are Dan Alexander, Chief of Police of Boca Raton, Florida. His website www.bocaviper.com, B-O-C-A-V-I-P-E-R, one word, dot com. Dan is involved in everything on the face of the earth – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, interactive mapping, websites, e-mail alerts, offender notifications, TV shows, and a blog. Laurie Stevens is our other guest. She is with the New England Institute of Arts. She is Chair of Web Design in Social Media. She is putting on a conference called Social Media in Law Enforcement, the SMILE Conference. The website address is theSMILEconference.com, one word. So, www or http://theSMILEconference.com. All right. So we’re into the second half of the program. This is going by like wildfire. I think we need to move off of this fear thing because it’s interesting – so many individuals throughout the country, so many corporations are embracing social media wholeheartedly, and it’s become a huge part of what it is that they do and how they operate, but we in the criminal justice system just are, we’re just a bunch of, we’re a bit stodgy, and for an organization that has to communicate with a public, this is a fantastic way of doing it.

Laurie Stevens: It is fantastic and it’s inexpensive and it’s fast, and it’s like Dan said, cops aren’t exactly known for changing, yet this guy, Dan, had his own social media police, not an officer, a civilian, but a social media manager, over a year ago. I was listening to him and kind of chuckling thinking, he’s not all that afraid, because he’s out there really leading the pack. And to that point, I think that another officer friend of mine made the analogy that it’s like freight train and it isn’t about a [PH] decision anymore Len; it’s taken off. You’re either going to get hit by it or you’re going to get on and you’re going to ride it, or you’re going to wake up one day real surprised and wonder what happened and how did I lose control of this situation.

Len Sipes: I found a website, go ahead, please.

Laurie Stevens: No, I’m just saying that I think law enforcement, I don’t know about the criminal justice organizations as well as law enforcement, I think law enforcement isn’t that far behind other businesses. I really don’t. The ones I’m talking to, everybody’s interested in doing it. They are a little fearful, but they’re trying to figure out their way.

Len Sipes: I ran across the other night a website, Cops Who Blog. That’s part of the NING network, N-I-N-G, Cops Who Blog or Cops That Blog, I can’t remember, but I’ve been interacting with them in terms of my own promotional activities, and they’re really interesting, the conversations I’ve had with them and talking about some of the websites and some of the things that they’re doing. You’re right. There’s a lot of energy, but once again, and I don’t want to beat this horse to death, I do think that there is, and this is the conversation I had this morning, that folks are just reluctant. I was talking to some people in public relations a little while ago, and said, Leonard, I’m a dang gone good public affairs officer. I know how to talk to the media, I know all about my agency, I’m not friends but I have a good relationship with the folks in the media, I’m constantly available, and so I can do radio shows, I can do television shows, I can do talk radio, and I can write, and now, on top of everything I know how to do, now you want me to start producing radio shows, you want me to start doing websites, you want me to start doing blogs, you want me to start Twittering. Where does this begin and where does this end? His point was traditionally a public affairs officer had a set amount of skills and that’s all he or she had to worry about. Now those skill sets need to double or triple, and now their job has become much more complex and they’re not exactly hopping and skipping and smiling into the social media process because it’s a lot more work.

Dan Alexander: Yeah. Some of that can be shared, and we talked about this early on, that I’m fortunate to have a resource here that is involved in it and primarily is his job function, but I think that a lot of places also have to have policing officers and crime prevention officers or use their regular officers to get engaged, and there’s some risk involved, obviously, but again, I think in terms of return on investment, it’s huge. We talk about risk, and I mentioned in the ConnectedCops.net piece that I wrote for Laurie, there is a risk in ignoring social media. I’ve watched my colleagues try to shut off a particular outlet or media outlet in particular because they don’t like a story that was run, and then they go back again. Why? Because their constituents get their news from that outlet, so you have to be there and there’s a risk ignoring it. The fact of the matter is they’re talking about you out there. The question is whether you want to get engaged in the discussion or not.

Len Sipes: But isn’t that the bottom line to both of you? And Dan, you said it perfectly – the conversation is going on whether you engage that conversation or not, so if that conversation about your agency is going to take place, wouldn’t you like to be part of that conversation in a very meaningful way? And I’m not talking about a manipulative way. I’m not talking lying. I’m talking about a very honest, open approach to sharing information with the community. If that conversation is going to take place, why don’t you want to be part of it? That’s my question.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely. I don’t see how you can, you can’t avoid it. No.

Laurie Stevens: I think it’s a lost opportunity if you’re not engaging. You know, Len, back to that skill set that you mentioned; I really think it’s not that it’s more complicated. There’s a learning curve there, but once you get over it you’d use them. They feed each other. You can use them to talk to each other. You can use them to build upon one another, the tools that I’m talking about themselves. It’s really not that hard. This is lots easier than learning how to write copy for print and lots easier than producing a television show. Tweeting, Facebook, it’s not hard to learn. It’s just getting over that hump.

Len Sipes: Well, even putting up a website, though because it’s interesting. Just a couple of years ago, a website was a $20,000 to $30,000 proposition and that was serious money. With WordPress-based designs and you’re talking about $100 to buy a professional website. Now you still have to populate that website and you may pay somebody to set that website up for you, but you’re not talking about $20,000, $30,000, $40,000. You’re talking about a couple of hundred dollars.

Laurie Stevens: If that. If you can grab WordPress and find a seam that you like.

Len Sipes: It can be a lot less than that, yes.

Laurie Stevens: It can be. It can be. It’s just not that hard, and not only that, but you don’t need a professional to update it. With WordPress and tools like that, [PH] Jumla, you can get right in and any amateur can get in and daily edit their content. It’s just not that hard.

Len Sipes: Right, but it does take time. So the point is to our brethren within the criminal justice community, it’s not that expensive. It’s not that risky. The conversation’s going on about you anyway, so why not get involved and you can accomplish operational goals. We were able to convince 530 criminal offenders with warrants to voluntarily surrender in Washington, DC, and we did it principally through social media. We did it principally through social media, so that’s my biggest law enforcement / criminal justice example of how you can accomplish operational objectives through social media.

Laurie Stevens: Well, there you go. Talk about your ROI right there. What would that have cost you without however you did that?

Len Sipes: Well, when I was an ex-cop out there serving warrants, they would give me a stack of warrants on the midnight shift and if I served one a week I was lucky, and here it is 530 people voluntarily surrendering to a church.

Dan Alexander: You go back to what you were talking about earlier, too, in terms of developing the informational content. You’re doing it anyway. We did the traditional release. It’s really just a matter of either copying, pasting, or simply changing it up a little bit to fit the format that’s appropriate for the social media outlet. Yeah, I think there is going to be a little bit more time and effort involved, but the payoff is significant. There’s no doubt about it.

Len Sipes: And it’s not just the younger individuals. I read a piece yesterday of how the younger people are bailing out of Facebook and going back to MySpace because they’re tired of their parents and grandparents being on MySpace and trying to be friends with them.

Laurie Stevens: I wouldn’t know, Len. My kids won’t friend me.

Len Sipes: My kids did so reluctantly, Laurie.

Dan Alexander: Yeah, well, that’s why a lot of parents got into it. They wanted to see what was going on, and you just look at the sheer numbers of people that are in social media. That’s the other concern that probably sits out there, is that it’s just a niche group – well, no, everyone is in social media and it’s where people are getting their content. The point I made, too, on the piece is that you talk about community – you’ll go visit someone for a Crime Watch meeting in a neighborhood, why not go into social media and visit the community that exists there. It really just doesn’t make sense.

Len Sipes: Instead of talking to 30 people, why don’t you talk to tens of thousands of people? It’s the same message. It’s the same effort.

Dan Alexander: Yeah. I think the challenge, a couple of challenges that I think about with this thing is are we reaching the right audience? I think that’s a concern in terms of trying to make it local. I know we need to do a better job of ensuring that we’re achieving a connection with our local group. The other part of it that isn’t so much of a concern, I think it’s an opportunity, is looking at how we can develop some of our own social media tools to ensure that we’re creating virtual communities within our jurisdiction. I think those are a couple of things that sit out there right now that are challenges, but not negatives. I think it’s something that is just going to involve a little more time and effort on our part.

Len Sipes: Well, you can always make fun of us northerners sitting in the snow while you’re all sitting down there in the warm weather.

Laurie Stevens: Don’t encourage him – he does that.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely.

Laurie Stevens: And he does it over Twitter, Len.

Len Sipes: You can have that cathartic relationship with your community. Laurie, you’re up there in Boston, right?

Laurie Stevens: Yes, I am.

Len Sipes: Yeah. And believe it or not, Baltimore and Washington, our metropolitan area, got more snow than any other major city this year. So Buffalo and Minneapolis, you’re now taking a backseat to DC and Baltimore. Any final thoughts? We have a minute left.

Dan Alexander: No. I would just say that we’ve been real excited about the feedback we’ve gotten and the tangible results that we’ve gotten from social media. I’m excited to see what the future holds. I think we’re still in law enforcement and in criminal justice on the front end of this thing, and I think it’s important for us through opportunities like the SMILE Conference to get together and see where we are, and see what we can do to improve our approach to community policing.

Len Sipes: Laurie, you got about 30 seconds. Laurie?

Laurie Stevens: No, just to piggyback on that – I think that law enforcement is, that adoption curve is just starting to turn up, and it’s just starting to really hit the masses. Not huge masses, but we have the early adopters like Dan and a few others, and now everyone else is seeing what they’re doing, seeing the successes that they’re having, and now is the time where everybody is really jumping onboard, and it’s going to get real exciting here.

Len Sipes: Well, in terms of size, I’m doing 2.5 million requests a year.

Laurie Stevens: You are?

Len Sipes: Yes, and I’m spending less than $15,000 a year to do it, so the point is, is that this is powerful. People in the criminal justice system need to understand how powerful this is and how relatively inexpensive it is.

Dan Alexander: Absolutely.

Laurie Stevens: Well, I think we went a long way towards that today, I hope.

Len Sipes: Good. Our guests today, ladies and gentlemen, Dan Alexander, Chief of Police, Boca Raton, Florida. His Web address, www.bocaviper.com. Bocaviper is one word. Doing Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, interactive mapping, websites, e-mail alerts, offender notification, TV shows, blog, and just about everything else on the face of the Earth. I’m very, very impressed with Boca Raton and Dan Alexander from what I heard today. Laurie Stevens, the New England Institute of Art, Chair of Web Design and Social Media. She is putting on a conference, Social Media in Law Enforcement, the SMILE Conference in Washington, DC, on April 7, 8, and 9. This is the year 2010. The SMILE Conference is the address, theSMILEconference is all one word, dot com, and you can get information about that. Ladies and gentlemen, like I said at the beginning of the program, we continue to be really impressed by your letters and in some cases phone calls, even though I don’t give out my address, your comments to our comments box, which come in to about 10 a day, and some of your e-mails, feel free to share them. Some of them are about the show and some of them are not, and I do the best I can to answer those e-mails that aren’t about the show, and some are just downright tragic and we try to do our very best to help you with local resources and plug you in to those local resources. But in any event, we really appreciate your patronage and have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: social media, SMILE, Social Media in Law Enforcement, police, law enforcement

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Comments

  1. Growth Spark says

    It’s great to read about web design and social media marketing technologies being used by law enforcement. Dan Alexander’s website is pretty cool, too. I’d be interested in hearing more of these types of segments.

  2. Kaley Gumbel says

    What can I do if I really feel some of these policys are unfair. The place would you suggest I voice my concerns to the federal government? I think many people would be concerned with hearing what it’s important to say.

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