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Chiefs’ Corner: You Can Be Your Own News Room

August 29, 2012 | VACP

The newest IACP Center for Social Media Chiefs' Column comes from recently retired Prince William County, Virginia, Police Chief Charlie Deane. In his column, Chief Deane discusses how law enforcement agencies can be their own news room.

by Chief Charlie T. Deane, Retired, Prince William County, Virginia

The days of newspaper stands and evening news broadcasts are losing audiences as online news and 24-hour news channels become the standard. Our citizens have proven to be contemporary in thought and tech savvy and expect their police department to be the same. Excellent public relations are a priority with our department and social media helps us to maintain this level of service. Social media allows us to communicate with our citizens, fellow law enforcement agencies, and the news media simultaneously; thus allowing each recipient to get the same information and feel the same level of importance. Our department uses three major platforms; Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Facebook is the most popular as an ever-increasing number of our citizens monitor this site on a continual basis. Our county is in close proximity to Washington, D.C.; so many commuters follow us on Twitter just to monitor traffic updates.  We strive to interact with the public consistently. To do so, we have had to make a full time commitment to social media.

We created our Facebook page in July 2010. At the end of 2011, we had 1100 likes to our page. Today, we have over 4000 likes. Why the spike? We have become more interactive with the public in 2012 through social media. We are putting information out more frequently and in a timely manner. In the beginning, we were concerned about over-posting; however, the more we post and respond to direct messages, the more positive feedback we receive. We allow friends of the page to ask questions privately or publicly and we quickly respond to all. Initially, we used Twitter as our headlines platform. Remember when you used to scan the newspaper headlines to see which story you actually wanted to read? Now the entire population feels that way. So we post or tweet the headlines of the department and, if the citizen is interested in the story, they can read more information on our Facebook page or go to the County’s Web site.

How do you manage 4000 people and increased blogging? Our Public Information Office is responsible for monitoring the social networking sites. It is critical to have people that are experienced and know how to properly answer questions and respond to posts. After all, they represent the department. Your PIOs are generally trained in what to say and not say. It is important to keep the conversation positive and not to take attacks on the department personally. (We know…that’s really hard to do!) While we tell citizens that our platforms are only monitored during normal business hours, we still post priority information after hours and on weekends.  By posting major events even late at night, the calls to our Public Information Officers after hours have decreased. Reporters no longer need to verify the story because they can follow our official posts. In fact, all they have to do is share the post from our page theirs.

Like so many fellow police agencies our posts vary from ‘Fugitive of the Month’ to ‘Adopt a Pet’ from the Animal Shelter. We post traffic conditions related to vehicle crashes or concert venues. Also posted are our Daily Crime Report and real time crimes such as armed robberies in progress. We use our page to congratulate award recipients, we share stories that we feel the public would find interesting and helpful like “teaching your child about internet safety” or “what could happen when you text and drive.” Stories that get the most likes are those which we have posted photos of citizens, kids and animals.

Everyone is on board the social media freight train. Now is the time for police departments to show we are the conductors. Using social media promotes your department as a transparent one by being accessible and responsive. The public feels a real connection to the department. They get personal responses to their questions, up-to-date information about current police activity and they are able to see the softer, more human side of police. Because of the back and forth conversations with the department on social media they become part of the department and are participating in community policing.

As you see, we can post any type of information we want to. It doesn’t have to be a hard crime story that the media reports on now. We get to tell our own story and show the public who their department is and provide information about our department and officers that the media may not have the resources to cover or the interest. You can be your own news room!

About The Author
Retired Chief Charlie T. Deane was a member of the Prince William County Police Department from its inception in July 1970 until his retirement at the end of August 2012. He served 12 years as a criminal investigator and rose through the ranks to Deputy Police Chief in 1985. He was appointed Police Chief for the Department in 1988. Chief Deane was a Virginia State Police Trooper from 1966 until 1970.  He is the longest-serving chief in the Washington region.

Chief Deane is a past president of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP). He serves as Vice President of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). He is also a member of the Policy Center Advisory Board and past member of the Executive Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

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