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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Social Media and Policing


Social media has changed the way we police forever.   While I was attending school in the 1980's, information moved at a snail's pace compared to what happens in schools today.  When I was a school resource officer in the 90's information was moving a little faster with pagers and cell phones, but very few students had them.  Today, most kids have cell phones and receive information instantly through texts, email,  Facebook, twitter and other sites.   When fellow students are not getting along today, everyone knows.  Rumors (true or false) are spread to hundreds of people in the press of a button.   Within minutes, thousands of people can know about a major incident.   I hear stories weekly about a Facebook postings by kids that would never be allowed by a responsible parent.  Many kids are posting their bad behavior on YouTube that no doubt would make their families ashamed.    Parents need to be involved in their kid's Facebook pages, smart phone, and computer activity.  Your involvement might keep them out of trouble and could save their life.  SafetyWeb.com or SocialShield.com are worth checking out for any parent with a teenage child.

People can post anything on social media sites regardless of facts.  I have seen a few stories now posted by folks who should be embarrassed about their behavior, but instead choose to blame others and tweak stories as so they don't look as they were the ones who did something wrong.   Don't like someone?  More and more folks are choosing to blast others via YouTube and Facebook. 
A year or two ago we added a policy for police staff related to the use of social media on and off duty.  Why you may ask?  Well, we have seen officers across the country get in trouble for comments on social networking sites.  Some are related to sensitive investigations, some have posted work related photos, and others have posted things that severely discredit them and their agencies.   Our staff work very hard every day to serve and build relationships with members of our community and those efforts can quickly be washed away by an officer who uses poor judgment in a comment on Facebook or some other site.

The evolution of social media is not all bad.  We have found it is a great way to expand community policing efforts by informing and interacting with the public.  We almost have 10,000 followers on the Duluth Police Facebook page (in the top 10 nation wide for followers in departments 100-250 officers).  We post most press releases as well as engage the public in other ways on our policing and crime prevention efforts.  Folks ask questions, compliment, complain and comment on our efforts.  It has been a great way to engage people we would not normally have contact with. 

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