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Q&A: Sean Shapiro, Toronto Police Service

October 27, 2021  By Brittani Schroeder

Sean Shapiro, Toronto Police Service. Credit: Sean Shapiro

Blue Line editor Brittani Schroeder recently spoke with Sean Shapiro of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) to speak about the importance of connecting with the community and finding new ways to engage with them, especially during a global pandemic.

Q: Why was reaching out to the community via social media so important to the TPS?:

The TPS Traffic Services Unit has been engaging the public in person and through social media for many years. We have steadily grown across all the primary social media platforms, where we spoke at our audience rather than truly engaging in conversations with them.

Our meaningful engagement really took place at trade shows and public events where our officers were available to discuss traffic safety and answer questions one-on-one with the public.

During the pandemic, we needed to pivot and expand our social media efforts to both grow our audience and find innovative methods to connect in a more meaningful way, since in-person was no longer an alternative.


Q: Who spearheaded this social media effort?:

In an attempt to create more engaging content, I began creating videos on all of our social media platforms. In relation to an investigation, I was required to create a TikTok account and in doing so, I uploaded a video onto TikTok just to see what would happen. The results were surprising! With the support of my supervisor, Sgt. Jason Kraft, I began to experiment with creating a totally different kind of content. It was uncharted territory, but it was working well and it was evident that we were on to something special.

Q: Which platforms does the TPS focus on?:

The Service is active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and now TikTok. We are excited to use this new platform because this is where we find the most engagement. Beginning in March 2021, after much experimentation with the platform, we saw both a growth in our audience and their activity. In only seven months, our account has grown to over 181,000 followers with millions of views each month.

In addition, we have seen much success with our live-stream efforts on TikTok, which I have replicated and broadcast regularly on our other platforms. Live streaming supports our community-driven initiatives by allowing our community and safety partners onto our platform to share their messages to our audience.

We had previously believed that impressions and views were a valuable measurement of success; however, we came to find that getting meaningful interactions in the form of shares, comments and view time was the true measure of achievement.

Q: How did you transition from speaking at your audience to engaging with your audience?:

Like many social media users, we would post statements and educational instructions, but we limited our two-way interactions with the public. Today we focus on dialogue, and it is during these informal conversations that we find ourselves building relationships.

My personal transition to working on our social media was really by accident; I was involved in an on-duty motor vehicle collision as a member of the Motor Squad. I was brought into the Traffic Safety Programs office while I was recovering, and one thing led to another.

Speaking to the public is what I’ve been doing since I joined the TPS. Transitioning to doing the same on social media was a natural progression for me.

What was really different was the fact that I began live streaming daily. For one hour each day, whatever traffic or police questions that came our way would be answered live. Speaking with an average of 400 persons in a live session—sometimes over 700—can be a somewhat strange feeling. I’ve also developed some amazing relationships with members of the public who are now a part of a community of moderators that assist me with keeping the live chats both classy and manageable.

Our TikTok live show can be heard during regular segments of the Jerry Agar show on NewsTalk1010, where we can answer questions from both audiences.

Q: What topics do you focus on during these social media sessions?:

Most of our content is traffic-related, but during our live streams, we are also addressing a lot of general policing questions from the public. Questions range from “Can I remove my muffler from my car?” to “How can I become a police officer?”, and the occasional “Why are my tax dollars paying you to be on TikTok?”

That last one is my favourite, because I get to speak to how efficiently we are engaging and helping the public, which is truly a cost-effective strategy for the Service as we can now reach a larger audience.

I encourage all of my policing colleagues to spend more time on social media to build stronger relationships with an audience that wants to talk to you. If you want to reach them, you just need to be where they are spending most of their time – and it’s your job to identify the platform being used by your target audience.

Editor’s Note: You can follow the TPS Traffic Services on the following social media accounts:

Twitter: @TrafficServices

TikTok: @TrafficServices

Instagram: @TrafficServicesToronto



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