Employee Social Media Activities and the Roanoke, Virginia, Police Department’s Strategy (Part One)

Guest Blogger: Chris Perkins, Chief of Police, Roanoke, Virginia, Police Department

Earlier this year, the Roanoke Police Department increased its presence in social media. Instead of only posting to Facebook and Twitter during a major incident or when surveillance video or pictures were available of a suspect, the department began posting daily.

As we prepared to launch the increased use of social media, the department asked itself, “How does a police department harness the usefulness of social media and protect its agency and personnel from the technology pitfalls of inappropriate use?”

This first became a concern in September 2009, when an officer created a blog site. The blog posts went mostly unnoticed by the public until a local community group, to which the officer attended monthly meetings, created a link to the blog site with the police department’s badge as the identifying logo. Not only had the community group linked to the site, but the local newspaper had, too. A further review of the postings revealed enough descriptive information about police calls for service that confidentiality matters for the individuals involved and prosecution in the cases risked being jeopardized.

Leadership at the Roanoke Police Department had to balance priorities when addressing this activity. For one, banning officers from listing their place of employment on social media sites contradicted the ongoing project by the department to expand its own social media sites. However, discussing work in an open forum exposed the officers and the department to potential litigation and civil suites.

Check back later this week for part two of this blog post.

IACP 2011 has special workshops covering social media issues for law enforcement. For information, to register, and to secure housing, visit http://www.theiacpconference.org.

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