Inventing My Own Hashtag… #SM4LE

So I recently spoke at a gathering of Police Chiefs on the topic of Social Media and Law Enforcement.  I covered a bunch of topics over the course of my bit (it was a full hour speaking slot, which allowed us to cover a lot of ground), but one came out of some of the things I learned while preparing.

  1.  Something like 90% of all US law enforcement agencies have fewer than 50 employees.
  2. Nearly all US municipalities are facing declining tax revenues and police departments are under more pressure than ever to “do more with less”.
  3. A significant portion of non-violent crimes that don’t involve drugs are never even pursued.  Consider this example?  In Spokane, the Police Department actually told the press that only 5% of property crimes will even be investigated! Not solved… looked at.  In 95% of all cases involving simple property theft, the victim filing the police report (usually done for their insurance company) is the end of the process.  I’m not knocking them – there just aren’t enough resources to go round.


Remember this post though?  It was on a more grandiose topic the State and local Law Enforcement, but it closed with an important notion.

“From cults to political parties to hate organizations to repressive regimes, the daylight is coming to shine on you.  If you can’t say it out loud and in public, know that your days are numbered.  I think, whether in months or years, the end is nigh, and your doom will come not from jackbooted troops, police SWAT teams or even intrepid reporters, but in the form of the individual with a conscience and the cheap, ubiquitous camera phone.”

And here’s what I’ve found.  Local Police Departments, those less-than-50-people, short-of-money agencies I talked about, are getting super creative in taking advantage of Social Media, and the power of both free technology platforms and free labor in the form of the engaged citizenry.  Here are just a few of my favorites.

The Utica NY police department (hey, I’m a Hamilton grad, what can I say?) started using its Facebook, Youtube and Twitter accounts to post information about crimes, including the “dead end” ones that no one could afford to spend paid labor to investigate.

The most amazing thing happened.  Shortly after the UPD posted store camera video of a liquor thief on its FB and YT channels, they received multiple calls ID’ing her by name, AND she turned herself in before UPD even tasked an officer to pick up the suspect.  My favorite part was her explanation when she showed up.  When asked why, she said “I wanted my face off Facebook and Youtube!” and her phone was “blowing up” with calls from angry family and friends. As I said before, this generation has a relationship to their phones and social networks that us “old people” (by which I mean, over 30) simply do not appreciate.

So a crime that a few years ago would fall into the “never even investigated pile” was now solved, in 24 hours complete with confession, at a total cost to the department of roughly NOTHING. They didn’t even spend the gas to have a cruiser pick her up.  She drove herself to the police station.  Awesome.

In another case described by the Chief of the UPD, there was a series of high-value thefts during one night between 11 and 3.  In the ensuing 24 hours, thanks to quick action on social media channels, they got two dozen tips, every single one of which named the same two guys. 

In LA, social media information was critical to catching a serial arsonist that had set more than 30 fires.  And this posted just this week – Police in Denton, Texas have caught eight of their Most-Wanted local criminals since February, thanks to their Facebook page.

What’s my point?  Two things – first, when every citizen is a free employee armed with a sophisticated, interlinked sensor (i.e. the camera phone and SMS), it’s amazing what under-staffed, under-funded and low-tech Law Enforcement Agencies  can do with a mouse, social media and an engaged community.







Second – This was about a one-minute part of an hour long discussion.  There are just so many aspects of social media and Open Source Intelligence that touch on state and local Law Enforcement. All  the money and fancy systems and “big data” being discussed at the Federal level? None of that trickles down well to the local LEAs whose concerns are the daily block and tackle of community policing.  I talked about the pitfalls, legal issues, and problems, yes, but also about the incredible opportunities that Social Media presents for improving outcomes and actually improving quality of life in communities large and small.  This is a broad, rich and fascinating topic I hope will get a lot more coverage in the future.

In the meantime, since I’m back on the blog and Twitter’s 140 character limit is not conducive to “#SocialMediaForLawEnforcement” I’m going to us #SM4LE (it didn’t already exist, I checked) as shorthand and hope I can help start a conversation.  I’ve met so many great cops, and dedicated civil servants who are trying to hard to work with what little they have in their own communities.  Maybe some of what I know about Open Source and Social Media can help the folks too small, too short-handed or too underfunded to enjoy the solutions that benefit the national agencies and major cities.

See you in the Twitterverse.

Eric  (@DigitalH20)





2 Responses

  1. Fantastic article!

    “Maybe some of what I know about Open Source and Social Media can help the folks too small, too short-handed or too underfunded to enjoy the solutions that benefit the national agencies and major cities.”

    The above comment could have an enormous impact all across the country if someone would just “DO IT” as Nike says 😉

  2. […] as I call it, where the public brings information in to you via social media.  In yesterday’s post, I previously noted cases where material posted on Department SM feeds and pages brought in […]

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