Step One: Roanoke, Virginia, PD’s Internal and External Strategy to a Successful Social Media Experience

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

The Roanoke, Virginia, Police Department has endeavored to embrace the social media movement. This approach is based on the reality that social media does impact both internal and external communication. By embracing the social media reality, we believe that we can limit the potential for negative actions and influence a positive experience. Based on this conclusion, our strategy was developed to establish influence and standards over the use of social media to make this a positive tool in communication for our agency.

The initial strategy of the agency included an internal policy development and training for the use of social media for employees. A national spotlight has already established that law enforcement officers are subject to accountability for private comments made in social media. While high standards are the norm for law enforcement, the application of standards to a social media initiative is a new approach. Our agency policy utilizes a collective expression of caution that did not severely limit the abilities of officers to maintain freedom of expression. It also helped encourage the need for employees to understand the rules of engagement for social media.

During the initial development of our social media policy, we consulted legal experts and research for guidance. Our focus was to educate officers on both the positive and the negative approaches to social media. It was made clear that there are limitations to how the individual officer can express opinions when positing on a social media forum. We established clear direction for our officers on the agency’s interpretation of the rules for use of social media. This direction focused on how the officers represented themselves as members of this agency.

While we did not tell offers exactly everything they could or could not say in a social media environment, we clearly articulated the rules for acceptable practices. By establishing this standard, officers were given a fair playing field. If the officers decided to risk questionable actions, they were made aware of how the agency would address the issue. This was solidified with training sessions conducted by our municipal attorney and command staff personnel with officers in the agency prior to the implementation of the policy.

Stay tuned for the second, third, and fourth steps of the Roanoke Police Department’s social media strategy in blog entries posted throughout IACP 2011.

IACP 2011 continues at McCormick Place West in Chicago, Illinois, through October 26. For information, visit To receive notifications when new blog entries are posted, click the “Follow” button on the upper left of your screen.

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