While it wasn’t the type of “captive” our panelists are used to, the audience at this month’s Social Media Breakfast were certainly well-behaved and stayed glued to their seats to hear how local law enforcement has incorporated social media into their efforts. Thanks Marriott Madison West for providing a “above and beyond” breakfast yet again, and no, there was not a single doughnut to be found!
Captain Charles Foulke, from the City of Middleton Police Department (@MiddletonPD ) (https://www.facebook.com/middletonpd) led off the presentation with remarks about the emerging laws regarding privacy issues and how law enforcement agencies can use social media. While the Constitution gives you the right to free speech, Foulke noted “there are consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public, and police have the right to engage and use those posts for information and investigations.” A nifty fact contributed on the #smbmad live twitter stream from @WendySoucie said “when challenged, social media as evidence for search warrants holds up in court 87% of the time.”
Elise Schaffer, Public Information and Education Officer for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office (@DaneSheriff ) (facebook.com/danecountysherriff) said her office started into social media “to show the public a different side of law enforcement.” They saw it as a terrific tool for recruitment to reach the high school/college age audience, as well as a means to promote special events such as “Shop with a Cop” or “National Night Out” that illustrate the human side of their officers.
She noted that press releases are very formal, with language such as “alleged” and “preliminary investigation,” while social media has allowed more freedom to show their lighter side and include photos. “We find it is a great way to convey the information we want the public to hear, in the way we want them to hear it.”
Joel Despain, Public Information Officer for the Madison Police Department (@MadisonPolice) reflected on the changes in the way information has flowed from law enforcement and the media to the public. Joel came from a journalism background “It used to be rip and read, with piles of paper coming off the wire and tips came from a visit to the local coffee shop.” Fast forward to today, and Joel’s incident reports have become the daily blog post for their department, which then are shared on their Twitter account and RSS feed. “I like the man bites dog types of stories. I learned very quickly what the concept of “viral” meant when the Times of London called me for comment about a report I posted.”
“Now zero reporters come knocking on my door. They read the feeds, and we are first telling our own story.” He said they have used Facebook successfully on the Madison Area Crime Stoppers site for posting surveillance videos and photos and asking for citizens to help identify those depicted. The speed of information can also of course be a detriment, if false information is spread. “We have to ride herd if some social media information is wrong, because it spreads like wildfire.”
Captain Charles Foulke stepped up again to speak in place of Keith Cleasby, Social Media Manager for the Middleton Police Department who could not attend. He commented on his surprise how much people pay attention to their posts. “The website is fairly static, but when we put out information about a change in traffic pattern, we received a lot of comments!” He said they use social media for community outreach, crime alerts, traffic information and weather alerts.
The captain also brought to light the “everlasting” public nature of social media posts. “I am always surprised what some knuckleheads put on Facebook.” He confirmed it is a common practice in the early stages of recruitment to review what a potential candidate has been posting, to see if there are any warning signs that could influence their effectiveness as a law enforcement officer.
Another interesting use of social media he mentioned was as a source of information about what is being planned by various groups for protests. When the capitol protests were heating up, advanced notice of potential group gatherings allowed for appropriate planning for deployment of resources and heading off problems before they started.
When workers representing Palermo’s pizza were gearing up for picketing at Costco, leaders of the groups were identified and contacted so they could start information exchange about what they could and could not legally do during their protests. Another interesting example of the benefits of listening to social chatter was when Ann Romney was planning a visit to a local restaurant. Hearing that a group was planning to come in early and take up every table in the joint, Middleton police were able to set up an alternative place for her to go.
Sergeant Troy Hellenbrand from the City of Middleton Police Department shared some amazing stories about their use of social media in the investigative process. “People will post bragging comments about committing a crime, or post photos of themselves with their new weapons. We have used Facebook photos to link a person to a tattoo that a witness identified on the suspect.” For more on this read this article “7 suspected criminals who got themselves caught via Facebook.”
Bill Curtis, Emergency Management Supervisor for the Emergency Management Unit at UW-Madison Police Department (@UWMadisonPolice) shared some statistics about the high use of social media such as 4 out of 5 officers are using it as a tool, 2/3 believe it helps solve crimes more quickly and smaller community departments are more apt to adopt it as a tool. He supported the notion shared earlier that social media is a terrific tool to reach out to the community, build partnerships and keep the flow of information going between themselves and the citizens they protect. “Social media has become the cornerstone of information flow.”
He also spoke about the broad use of social channels to give and get information about recent natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. “Response agencies are now relying on social media to provide information as well as gain situational awareness.” He noted the speed of social communication in the case of the Virginia Tech shooting, as the unofficial “are you ok?” posts on Facebook were seven minutes ahead of any official communications. “People are switching to social for information, as text and data lines can quickly become overwhelmed in emergencies.” The flip side of that speed, however, is the growing expectation that those channels are monitored 24/7 and calls for help delivered over social channels will get the same, if not faster response than through the 911 system. There are exciting possibilities for alternatives to 911, as he showed a graph from technology used in Haiti to monitor data generated by crowdsourcing and indicator messages, but it is not widely adopted in the U.S. yet.
Some great questions wrapped up the time that always blazes by.
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