Cyber Community Policing Efforts: Citizen Social Media Likes and Dislikes, Influencing the News Media, and Enhancing Positive Perceptions (Part One)

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

When planning to increase the use of social media to communicate with the public, the Roanoke, Virginia, Police Department saw that positive news was and continues to be preferred by the public.

On March 1, 2011, I held a press conference announcing our increased use of social media. At that time, I challenged our community to become involved and come with us as we took the next step, evolving from traditional community policing to cyber community policing. It has been said that the world is a dangerous place–not because of people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. The most effective crime-fighting tool is our citizens, who serve as our eyes and ears. The Roanoke Police Department needs their engagement and their efforts in reporting crime, taking an interest in their community even when events do not directly affect them, and becoming engaged stakeholders in the safety of our city.

As we discovered, our citizens consistently prefer positive news and news regarding major incidents. On an unseasonably warm March day, a Roanoke police lieutenant was on patrol in the city. He exited his patrol car and responded to a call, and when he returned to his car, a dog was sitting in the front passenger seat. The dog’s photo was posted on the department’s Facebook page in an effort to locate its owner. This post received 47 “likes” and 18 comments, including a comment from a citizen who offered to adopt the dog if its owner was not located. Four days later, the dog’s owner came forward, and all of the dog’s 47 fans responded to his safe return home.

Aside from feature stories, the department’s Facebook page received attention from the community during a critical incident. A report of a man walking through the mall with a gun forced the evacuation of shoppers and a thorough sweep of the facility by the Tactical Response Teams of the Roanoke Police Department and assisting agencies. Citizens looked to Facebook for updates during this incident, which ended without the individual being found. A debate was sparked as to what the man was actually carrying when the surveillance pictures were released on Facebook the next day in an effort to learn his identity. The Roanoke Police Department’s partnership with the media also drew more Facebook users to the site. One local news affiliate linked to the department’s Facebook page from its website when the surveillance pictures were posted, and the Daily Active Users to the police department’s page increased from 791 the previous day to 1,557. Dozens posted their opinions of whether the object was a firearm of an umbrella. In the end, the man came forward and detectives learned that he was carrying an umbrella, but the experience once again showed the power of social media as a form of communication.

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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