Identifying Threats Violence Against Police – the Importance of Social Media and Community-Police Relations

This blog post is one in a series related to IACP President De Lucca’s Task Force to Address Global Violence Against the Police.

As targeted attacks against police continue to represent a significant threat to law enforcement, it is important to ensure that agencies fully leverage the resources and methods necessary to maximize situational awareness and safety of personnel.  While no agency can ever fully ensure that a potential threat can be located and apprehended before an attack is carried out, there are strategies that may help mitigate risk, particularly in the areas of social media and community-police relations.

Subsequent investigation of previous targeted attacks against police have revealed perpetrators who were highly active on social media and quite blatant about their potential propensity to engage in violence against the police.  The 2014 attack of two Las Vegas Metro police officers is but one example. Through extensive social media postings, family and friends knew of the perpetrator’s intent, but no one came forward to authorities.

Threats made in cyberspace should be taken seriously. Use of both reactive and proactive intelligence as it relates to threats of violence posted to social media is a crucial component in enhancing officer safety in today’s environment. Expressly stated threats against law enforcement and advocating violence against police may, depending on the specificity, rise to the level of criminal conduct, particularly for known criminals.  An individual’s possible status related to probation, parole, or other supervision can provide the pretext to take appropriate investigative action based on a social media threat.  Similarly, individuals with criminal histories who, in proclaiming their willingness to engage in violence against police, indicate they are in possession of firearms are susceptible to further local, state or federal investigation.  Earlier this summer, a Nashville man plead guilty to making threats against police over social media.

While various lawful, proactive methods exist to increase an agency’s situational awareness on social media, law enforcement leaders should strive to establish strong community-police relations, where residents understand how to share tips with police and feel comfortable doing so.  Similar to the “See something, say something” campaign, a concerted effort to ensure an agency is receptive to tips from the public, as well as informants and other sources of information, could greatly expand the situational awareness of officers and the department at large.

The current age of rapidly advancing technology enables and requires law enforcement to implement new and innovative ways to reduce threats against officers.  Awareness of social media, combined with a collaborative community policing framework, can help mitigate risk.

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