Blue Line


October 27, 2014  By Laura Entis

by Laura Entis

You can’t afford to ignore social media. That’s especially true if you run a police service.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest: Social media is as valuable a resource for police as it is for traditional brands and businesses. It helps humanize law enforcement by allowing agencies to connect and converse with the general public. More importantly, it provides a platform for police officers to share information quickly and respond to tips from civilians (who are often more forthcoming over social media than they would be in person).

In many ways, social media and police go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It just makes sense. A 2013 social media survey from the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that 96 per cent of police agencies use social media in some capacity, more than 80 per cent say it has helped them solve crimes and 73 per cent said it helped improve police-community relationships.  


It’s encouraging to see men and women in blue taking to social media with such gung-ho enthusiasm. Unfortunately, as most of us know by now (if not through personal experience, then through Internet horror stories) social media can be a double-edged sword with one heck of a blade. We see it all the time – poor unfortunate businesses and civilians alike impaling themselves on their own well-intentioned tweets, posts, or hashtag campaigns. (Here’s looking at you, NYPD, but more on that later).

Police already generate high levels of both emotion and controversy and are particularly susceptible to social media misfires. That’s because, at least in part, while most businesses and brands have a solid grasp on what should and shouldn’t be done on social media in a professional context, the do’s and don’ts in the context of law enforcement are less established.

Here’s a look at the recent ways police agencies have used social media.

{Live tweeting a sting operation}

When is it appropriate to live-tweet? At the Westminster Dog Show? (Sure.) While giving birth? (Questionable.) At a funeral? (Probably not.)

What about a live sting operation? In what had to be a first, Prince George’s County Police in Maryland planned on doing exactly that. Spokeswoman Julie Parker told USA Today in May, 2014 that the live-tweeting would target men soliciting prostitutes (not the prostitute themselves) and would tweet specific names, charges and photos.

“We’re hoping the advance notice we’ve provided acts as a deterrent to would-be johns who choose to engage in this illegal behaviour. This is another example of our department’s commitment to transparency. We’ll give our community real-time access to the PGPD’s Vice Unit which is dedicated to shutting down this type of illicit business and seeking help for its victims,” the force wrote in a blog post.

It apparently worked. No one showed up looking for a prostitute; the department credited its planned live tweet for keeping them away.

Should resources be expended live tweeting a sting instead of being used to, you know, actually make an arrest? Is this a good use of tax-payer money or a good use of social media? 

{Asking twitter users to post pictures with officers}

Why they did it: To spread goodwill. The intention was clearly to circulate a stream of photos showcasing smiling officers next to smiling New Yorkers.

Reaction: Some people did exactly that. Others, not so much: Photos of police brutality took over the hashtag (some of them truly disturbing). Despite the immediate and intense backlash, the NYPD stood by the campaign; spokesperson Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster told that the department was “creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community” and that Twitter provided “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that is “good for our city.”

{Using Pinterest as a lost and found}

Why they did it: Gloucester Township and Mountain View found that the photo-based social platform allows residents to easily locate lost or stolen items recovered from criminal investigations or that have been turned into as lost property.

Before the creation of the township’s “Pinterest” web site, for example, residents had to make an appointment to come to the police station. Now, they can surf the board online at their own convenience. 

Reaction:  Seems like a pretty ingenious way to use social media. Check out the #GTPD Recovered Property board.

{Publicly firing officers over Twitter}

In 2013, 27 officers and employees were fired from the Dallas police department; each departure was accompanied by a termination Tweet from Police Chief David O. Brown stating the name of the employee and the reason why he or she was fired.

Why he did it: Brown said his actions (fittingly, he did so in a tweet) were motivated by transparency and a desire to “engage the public on social media.”

Reaction: Mixed. A few people supported Brown’s unconventional tweets but many found them unnecessarily humiliating.

“I love to see the law enforcement community embracing change… but this seems to be something a PR/Social Media professional should have handled rather than the chief,” wrote one person.

What would have happened if Brown tweeted out incorrect information? “This policy will open many cans of worms,” wrote another commentator. 


This is an edited version of an article that ran on .


Use Twitter guidelines to avoid a PR nightmare

by Scott Levy

In his book online marketing expert and Social Media Firm CEO Scott Levy provides the critical information needed to craft a social media strategy that will boost your agency or business. In this edited excerpt, the author offers some ideas for what to include when writing your Twitter policies:

Before you launch your social media campaigns, you must have policies in place and your team must be aware of them and, more importantly, abide by them. For example, how are you going to handle rude comments, negativity or trolls? What will you do in case of a crisis?

If you’re on the verge of a PR nightmare, you need to have people ready and able to make decisions, sometimes very quickly. This might mean issuing a well-timed apology or publicly illustrating how you solved a major problem or put out a fire. You need a damage-control plan, otherwise known as a “break glass in case of emergency” plan.

Some companies have several people review their social media communications before they go out to minimize any social media disasters. Too many have learned the importance of a system of checks and balances the hard way, such as when Chrysler hired an outside agency to handle its social media and someone tweeted on the @ChryslerAutos account, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f@#$ing drive.”

Apparently the agency representative thought he was being clever on his own Twitter account, but he sent it accidentally on the company’s account instead. Angry Detroit motorists responded, causing Chrysler plenty of PR headaches and putting the social media agency representative out of a job.

A policy clearly barring employees from using their own Twitter account while at work – which was what the employee thought he was doing – or that each post must be reviewed by another team member prior to sending could have prevented this PR disaster.

If you hire an outside firm to handle your social media, you still need to have very carefully worded policies in place covering anyone working on your account and holding them responsible if they don’t adhere.

Many companies have posted social media policies online, so rather than reinvent the wheel, you might want to review them for an idea of the rules you may want to include in your own policy. There are generic rules that simply make good sense and others that will fit you more closely. Choose the ones you like, put them in writing and make them available to everyone on your social media team. It can save you headaches in the long run.

Some rules you might want to include in your social media policy:

 •    You are prohibited from posting personal information.
  •   You will not post material that infringes on copyright, trademark or patents owned by a third party.
  •   You will not post material considered sensitive or proprietary.
  •   You will not post material that is considered slanderous, libellous or hurtful to another person or agency.
  •   You will not post any material that could be considered profane or discriminatory.
  •   You will never use inappropriate language, or harass or threaten anyone.
 •    You will not engage in personal business or discuss personal issues of any kind.
 •    You will not post, tweet or send out knowingly false statements or provide inaccurate information on any social media platforms.
  •   Policies may be updated at any time. New policies will be distributed to all team members.
 •    Failure to adhere to all policies may result in termination.

 Along with strict policies, guidelines might include:

   •  Always try to be authentic and transparent in anything you send out.
  •   If possible, support claims with appropriate links to information.    
 •    Be polite and don’t engage in arguments, even if provoked. If you disagree with the opinions of others, do so respectfully.    
 •    Speak in a polite, courteous manner and avoid “corporate speak” or “technical jargon.”
 •    Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.
  •   Always be honest and use your best judgment in all situations.
  •   Avoid plagiarism at all costs. Document all sources and give credit where credit is due.
 •    Participate, but don’t promote.
 •    When in doubt, ask for help or clarification.

Take your time and make a concerted effort to consider all possible scenarios and create policies and/or guidelines that can help you avoid, or at least minimize, as many potential problems as possible. While you’d like to say “use common sense” in hopes of covering many of these areas, it’s to your benefit to have everything spelled out, especially if someone does break the rules and you need to take some sort of action, which could range from moving them off a certain platform to termination.


Scott Levy is the founder and CEO of Fuel Online, an online marketing agency that focuses on social media and SEO. He has specialized in online marketing for more than 15 years and is a respected speaker, writer and consultant.

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