Organizations can no longer ignore social media, and police departments are no exception. In fact, there have been a number of high-profile cases in the news recently where police have used social networking as a tool to a catch a criminal or get its community involved.
Building Trust and Goodwill
Police departments often have social programs in place that help them connect with the community. These efforts help to build goodwill and trust, and help to avoid the disconnect that can sometimes occur between law enforcement and the people it is charged with protecting. Today, police have better access to their communities than ever through tools like Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps the neatest aspect of the police using social media is that they can actually reach people who would not otherwise pay attention by disseminating information that goes viral.
Social Media Departments
A recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that more than 96 percent of all police departments surveyed were using social media in some manner. Additionally, 80 percent of those departments indicated that those efforts helped solve and prevent crimes, and more than 73 percent indicated that they already had or had plans in place for an internal department that did nothing but specialize in social media and the various resources within that domain.
Traditionally, it has been very difficult for police departments to receive worthwhile feedback from their constituents. Communicating with the police can be intimidating and inconvenient, and a lone voice offering a suggestion or criticism is rarely heard. Today, however, police use blogs, Twitter and even forums in Ask Me Anything formats to answer questions and receive criticism. When a criticism or suggestion has an entire community behind it, then it becomes very difficult to ignore.
Although it has not reached the Supreme Court yet, there is legal precedent in the United States to suggest that a person no longer has a right to privacy for any information shared via a social channel online. This extends to information shared with the belief that the channel was private, such as posting a photo on a Facebook page that is only accessible by family and friends. There is a lot of evidence that can be used to solve crimes floating around on services like Facebook, and if police can get just one person who has access to provide them with that information, then they have a legal right to it.
Police can also be proactive about acquiring that kind of information, and so-called stings can extend to the online arena. For instance, it is legal for police to create a false online persona, befriend an alleged criminal and then use that friendship to acquire the evidence needed to prosecute. Some departments have also used social networking as a deterrent for crimes. Traditionally, police departments would publish the names of people who solicited prostitutes in the newspaper. Since that is no longer effective, some departments have turned to publishing those names and photos via Twitter.