Fighting Crime with Social Media web links;

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Crime Prevention Fact Sheet

Question How can law enforcement agencies use social media to inform their communities?


It used to be that when people wanted information about their local police department, they first went to the agency's web site. Today, the first place they look is Facebook or Twitter.

More and more law enforcement agencies are turning to social media platforms to engage their communities online. Police now use social media as a resource to educate and inform their community of criminal activity, explain crime trends and provide crime prevention tips. Police are also posting photographs of suspects, surveillance video, press releases and items about the heroics of officers on the force.

For many, their dealings with police are typically not under the best of circumstances. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter humanize police officers by giving the community an inside look into the police world.

Agencies can also use social media to notify the public of important information in the event of and following an emergency situation. For example, a tornado rips through your city, destroying hundreds of homes and killing dozens of people. How can you most quickly and efficiently get the word out to residents and people nationwide who may have family members in your city or want to offer assistance?

Your agency must use social media.

Days after the tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama, cities there turned to Facebook and Twitter to update residents about which streets were closed, which post offices were open, donation drop-off sites, curfews, benefit concerts and restaurants serving free lunches.

While it may not be possible to get on a computer or mobile device immediately after a disaster in your area to update a Facebook status or Tweet, those are the first places people will turn to for information.

Social media platforms are not meant to replace local newspapers, TV stations or radio stations. They are an additional resource for law enforcement agencies to use to spread their messages and keep the community safe. Even better, these sites are free, and in a time of significant budget crisis for cities nationwide, social media has quickly become a vital resource.

Facebook and Twitter also allows police agencies to become their own news outlet. Often, there is a bigger story of the day and your officer saving the life of a suicidal man threatening to jump off a bridge may not get the attention it deserves. Social media allows you to tell the story of that officer's heroics in its entirety to all of your followers, friends and fans.

Law enforcement agencies should also consider using YouTube as a means to share video with the public. It can be used as an investigative tool when trying to identify the suspect of a crime. But it can also be used to showcase dramatic video from inside police cars, highlight television appearances and attract the younger generation, who often assist in crime solving but may not the watch the local news.

While social media may be an emerging technology, it is here to stay and should be considered a valuable tool for law enforcement.