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Roanoke PD’s Internal & External Strategy to a Successful Social Media Experience

November 16, 2011 | Virginia News

News Image by Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins

The Roanoke Police Department has endeavored to embrace social media. This approach is based on the reality that social media does impact both internal and external communication.

The Roanoke Police Department has endeavored to embrace the social media movement. This approach is based on the reality that social media does impact both internal and external communication.

By embracing the social media reality, we believe that we can limit the potential for negative actions and influence a positive experience. Based on this conclusion, our strategy was developed to establish influence and standards over the use of social media to make this a positive tool in communication for our agency.

The initial strategy of the agency included an internal policy development and training for the use of social media for employees. A national spotlight has already established that law enforcement officers are subject to accountability for private comments made in social media. While high standards are the norm for law enforcement, the application of standards to a social media initiative is a new approach. Our agency policy utilizes a collective expression of caution that did not severely limit the abilities of officers to maintain freedom of expression. It also helped encourage the need for employees to understand the rules of engagement for social media.

During the initial development of our social media policy, we consulted legal experts and research for guidance. Our focus was to educate officers on both the positive and the negative approaches to social media. It was made clear that there are limitations to how the individual officer can express opinions when positing on a social media forum. We established clear direction for our officers on the agency’s interpretation of the rules for use of social media. This direction focused on how the officers represented themselves as members of this agency.

While we did not tell offers exactly everything they could or could not say in a social media environment, we clearly articulated the rules for acceptable practices. By establishing this standard, officers were given a fair playing field. If the officers decided to risk questionable actions, they were made aware of how the agency would address the issue. This was solidified with training sessions conducted by our municipal attorney and command staff personnel with officers in the agency prior to the implementation of the policy.

The second step of our strategy was to encourage officers to utilize social media. We made no attempts to discourage the use of social media and offered opportunities for officers to consult with the agency to verify they were within policy. Officers can be granted permission to post uniformed photographs or work comments on a social media page, but they realize that once this is done, they will be accountable for any postings, photographs, or wording as a representative of the agency. If they choose to keep work-related material off the page, they will be accountable for any posting or photographs that would be conduct unbecoming of a law enforcement officer. This provides two approaches to the personal use of social media and provides the employees an opportunity to decide which approach they want to take.

Policies are designed to address reality. We train officers to drive police cars, we give them the ability to decide when to use force, and we provide them with a weapon. We train them because we realize that they will practice what we train. We then write policies to guide those actions. We apply the same logic to social media. It is quickly becoming modern communication for both the old and the new generations and, as a result, we should expect it will be utilized and we should prepare our employees to do so successfully.

The third step of our strategy was to initiate an external agency social media approach. Our focus would be placed on crime prevention, community involvement, and community policing. It was determined that our use of social media could not be dormant and inactive. We made a commitment to make our use of social media a daily interactive page. By consulting our generation of social media users, it was apparent that if we attempt to create a social media presence, we could not afford to be inactive. The key to social media success is to provide current information daily that stimulates the interest of the users. Users of our social media site must feel that they are actively communicating and have the ability to get answers or information without delay. This commitment required a team approach. Vital to our third step was encouraging our employees to follow our department social media sources within their own personal links and devices. Additionally, we allow our Facebook page to be viewed in real time in our patrol lineup rooms on large viewing screens.

The most important aspect to the third step approach is trust from the leadership.

The final step in our social media approach was to give the people what they want. This has always been a difficult approach for law enforcement because of the nature of our work. By conducting research and evaluations of public response to our posting, we have allowed our readers to establish a broader focus on our approach. By providing the posts and data that intrigue our followers, we are able to maintain a high rate of user activity. This also allows us to insert crime prevention information, crime statistics, and internal recognition among the posts that are often in demand.

It has been apparent to our agency that our followers prefer the positive postings and information over the most traditional, rigid law enforcement material. These posts draw the most views, and we now look to find ways to create more positive news. We realized that when people buy newspapers, they will glance at the news and then read the sports section or the comics. It is our strategy to give the public the news, the sports, and the comics–all of which are directly related to our agency.

While we focus on our presence as a professional, dedicated, and highly trained department, we are not afraid to show the lighter side of our jobs. This also gives us the opportunity to acknowledge individual employees, internal events, and department accomplishments.

It is not a bold assessment to say that the rules of law enforcement communication are changing. Our goal is to be an active part of that change without waiting for it to change who we are.

Roanoke PD's Facebook Page:
Roanoke PD's Twitter account: