Social media can be used for good and it can be misused. There are innumerable threats posed by social media and they are not limited to cyber security. What ails social media often spills over to reality and there can be serious ramifications. It is necessary for law enforcement agencies to use social media as a form of empowerment instead of perceiving it as a challenge. There are concerns pertaining to the anonymity facilitated by most social media sites. Not everything can be preempted. However, a sound proactive strategy of using social media can help local policing.
- Local police can use social media to engage with the community. A long time ago, sheriffs of small towns would know every resident in person, well beyond their first name and last name. Most sheriffs used to be longtime residents of the place and knew entire families living in the area, in some cases their ancestries even. Local police of the twenty-first century has to deal with many more challenges but they also have much more resources. Today, people often don’t know their neighbors. Population is also more mobile today, especially in cities where the residents may not have been living at their current address for a very long time. There should be a serious attempt to connect with the people living in an area. This can be done with something as simple as an official handle on Twitter or a page on Facebook, The forces do not require Facebook marketing because they are generally of public interest to follow already. Let the people get acquainted with everyone. The law enforcement officers can make their individual presence felt online or they could use an official representative to operate the social media profiles.
- Local police can initiate outreach programs using social media. Once there are enough people in the community following and engaging with the official handle or page of the local police, there can be advisories and notifications, standard correspondence and special instructions. Policing is no longer just a post facto exercise. Police should be responsive when crimes are committed but they should also be proactive. Policing should be nonintrusive but it should be subtly and effectively exercised all the time. Social media can facilitate this. People feel safe when they know the local cops are one tweet, post or message away.
- Social media can be the space for a digital blotter. The local police have to share various types of information with the public from time to time. The community must be made aware of the crimes that have happened in the recent past. Suspicious activities should not only be observed and prevented by the local cops, the public must also be abreast of the same. There are times when the police have to share some vital information with the public and in some cases it must be done in real time. Social media can serve that purpose. There are no rules that prevent cops from engaging with their community in a virtual setting, informing, learning and sharing. Such initiatives make everyone feel like a stakeholder in ensuring the safety and security of the entire community.
- Social media can be phenomenally helpful for first responders. People often post information about an ongoing crime in real time. Social media users share details such as location, describe what they have seen or heard, some people are at the scene of the crime and know more than what the first responders may already be aware of and it is always better to have people alerted before things turn worse. It is not always crime that warrants such comprehensive understanding of a situation. Fire, natural disasters and many untoward and unforeseen circumstances can be responded to in a more steadfast manner if people share factual details and help one another out.
- Local policing can be improved exponentially if there is a system in place to monitor digital chatter. This is the modern version of the old school gossip or even rumor mongering. People talk about things happening around them or to them.
Local policing can be simplified if social media and the entire community are taken into confidence. Instead of treating social media as an adversary or a challenge in itself, people should embrace it and feel empowered. The same anonymity that some people enjoy on social media can also be employed by the cops to bust criminals. The same rumor mongering that miscreants weaponize in the digital world can also be turned against them. Police can always come up with smarter ways than criminals. With the community engaged and playing an actively supporting role, local policing can be simplified with the help of social media.
Many communities across the country and some parts around the world have been more forthcoming than others. People have reported crimes on social media. Communities have reported misdemeanors or something as quintessential as people speeding, driving recklessly or riding without wearing protective headgear. From sharing wanted posters online to encouraging the community to be more forthcoming and proactive, there is a lot local police can do to empower themselves, the help the citizens and to be menacing for the criminals.