All too often the phrase, “we cannot disclose that at this moment” is heard when police departments are holding a press conference and answering live questions, regarding an incident at hand. For years, this was a default response to limit statements provided to the media and the public. With the emergence of social media, this response is often not accepted. Although certain aspects of a crime or incident cannot be released, to not compromise the investigation, law enforcement agencies are often forced to provide as much information as possible. When media outlets or citizens provide misinformation, it can spread and create a buzz or inflict further fear in the blink of an eye. “CNN and ESPN, reported inaccurate information in the early hours and days of coverage, as in this tweet: “@Sportscenter: An arrest has been made in the Boston Marathon bombings, CNN reports” (April 17 2013). This incorrect tweet was retweeted 13,930 times and made a favorite 2,476 times,” (Lipschultz, pg. 2). With this misinformation and the threat of the offenders still at large, law enforcement must clarify that information as soon as possible. In some cases, scheduling another press conference to simply refute a claim may not be practical. This is where social media comes into play.
Law enforcement agencies that utilize social media could immediately tweet, post on Facebook, or any other platform they use to send out a message concerning public safety and in the case in the Boston Marathon bombing, clarify that no suspects were in custody at that time. According to Hanson (2011) law enforcement tools have evolved from wanted posters to police radio, patrol cars and social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Along with providing public safety information, law enforcement agencies can utilize social media to engage with the communities they serve, provide safety tips, and brand themselves to help build a relationship with the public.
In 2015, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) rolled out a pilot program to allow select CPD Districts to develop and manage a Twitter account with content specific to that District. The 14thDistrict, which is located on the Northwest side of the city, flourished with their Twitter account. @chicagocaps14 started to interact with its constituents and the community immediately embraced it. Within three months of starting their Twitter page, @chicagocaps14 had nearly 2500 followers. @chicagocaps14 developed content and engaged with the community through a Twitter Town Hall, where people were able to ask the District Commander direct questions. While maintaining interactions, they also produced informative information on crime prevention tips, street closures due to upcoming festivals, and developed #warrantwednesday. Every Wednesday they would post the information of an individual who resides or was known to frequent the 14thDistrict, that had an active arrest warrant. The reason for the warrant was listed along with the disclaimer to not approach or stop this individual, but to call 911 and notify the police. This allowed citizens to help and contribute in taking criminals off the street.
As @chicagocaps14 was posting and maintaining content on a daily basis, the department CPD twitter @Chicago_Police was not producing the amount of content that the 14thDistrict was and as a result, the District page gained official verification before the department Twitter. As of November 7, 2018, @chicagocaps14 had 7,578 followers while producing 4,623 tweets. @Chicago_Police has taken off and now surpassed @chicagocaps14 in tweets and followers. @Chicago_Police currently has 71,500 followers and has produced 6,742 tweets.
The expansion of social media has opened the lines of communication between the police and the community. It has provided an identity to officers and an exchange of information that has helped solve crimes in some cases. CPD in the last year has added video content to their social media platforms that includes ride along footage, explanation videos of what certain units do in the course of their day, and crime prevention tips. The link provided is a YouTube video produced by the CPD illustrating what occurs when responding to a suspicious package or an actual bomb is discovered, https://youtu.be/FVN8ly6J3gc. Due to the recent suspicious packages sent to political figures, this content is up to date and informative that if it were to happen in Chicago, that the CPD is prepared.
Hansen, Wayne. 2011. How social media is changing law enforcement: social media raises positive and negative issues for police. Government Technology. Retrieved from http://www.govtech.com/public-safety/How-Social-Media-Is-Changing-Law-Enforcement.html
Lipschultz, J. (2018). Social media communication: Concepts, practices, data, law and ethics (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.