Police departments are increasingly embracing the idea of using social media sites, such as Facebook, for everything from soliciting crime tips to sharing safety-related information and improving community relations. The sites can give law enforcement an additional way to disseminate information quickly and to interact with the public.
Through Facebook, for example, police can easily share crime-related pictures and videos and give the public a relatively simple way to provide feedback and tips, says Dionne Waugh, a spokeswoman for the Richmond (Virginia) Police Department (RPD).
Another main benefit of Facebook and other sites has been the potential for strengthening community relations, she says. The department posts information about its “officer of the month,” for instance. Waugh and some other social media experts say Twitter can be an effective way to spread information in emergency situations.
More and more departments are establishing sites. In a study conducted last year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), 81 percent of 728 departments surveyed said they used social networking. About two-thirds of the departments said they used Facebook. Social media adoption has been occurring especially quickly over the past year, says Nancy Kolb, senior program manager at the IACP’s Center on Social Media.
To use such sites effectively and safely, experts say departments should craft strong social media policies. For example, departments should establish guidelines regarding what the public can post on their pages.
Before the RPD launched its Facebook page in January, some managers were concerned that the site would attract too many inappropriate comments and police criticism, Waugh says.
The department defined what qualified as acceptable commentary and discussion on its site. That way it cannot be accused of arbitrary censorship.