Wait a minute. Am I suggesting that some law enforcement officials have taken to social media as a way to help solve crimes? Well, yes, I am —and I’m also going to tell you it’s a strategy more and more police agencies across the country are willing to consider. In fact, many are finding social media to be a very effective new addition to their investigative toolkits.
Launched in October 2010 in conjunction with the US Department of Justice and other related agencies, the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Center for Social Media is focused on the potential uses of social media platforms for three distinct purposes:
- aiding crime prevention and investigation,
- enhancing community relations and
- improving the services that agencies provide.
Each year, the IACP has conducted an annual survey in order to gauge whether law enforcement agencies are incorporating social media use into their overall strategies and, if so, how they are using it and whether they find it valuable.
Between its initial 2010 survey and the most recent one, which included more than 600 state, local, college campus and tribal agencies throughout the US, the IACP has found the growth in social media use by this sector has been nothing short of phenomenal. Just take a look at some of these numbers:
- A whopping 92.4 percent of all agencies surveyed use social media to at least some extent.
- Between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of agencies with written social media policies rose from 35.2 to nearly 62 percent, with an additional 18 percent stating they were in the process of drafting such a policy.
- Almost three-quarters of the respondents said they now use social media to help solve crimes, compared with 45.3 percent two years ago.
- The percentage of agencies reporting that they find social media to be an effective means of strengthening community relations also rose dramatically, from 45 to 64 percent.
The most prevalent use of social media by law enforcement is in to investigate and solve crimes (77.1 percent), followed by notifying the public of crime problems (63.7 percent), community outreach and citizen engagement (61.8 percent) and gathering intelligence (61.7 percent). Only about of one-third of the agencies employ social media for recruiting, and less than 10 percent incorporate it into their training programs.
Compared with the reluctance I’ve seen in parts of the private sector when it comes to implementing social media tactics as part of a comprehensive business strategy, this willingness by those in law enforcement is refreshing. Just think—in addition to serving as communications, networking and marketing tools, social media platforms are now being used to help keep communities safe, as well.