This project began as an extension of our graduate program research at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The capstone work for our degree program, which will be available soon through the Program on Criminal Justice Policy and Management, was a collaboration with the New York City Police Department to conceive of social media strategies for major city police departments. It was a project we completed after several interviews with and input from law enforcement officers, leading thinkers in the criminal justice field, and expert practitioners of social media communications and organizing. In this blog we will summarize the findings and recommendations of that report, then continue to write our thoughts and observations on the topic of law enforcement and social media.
Our central argument, in its simplest form, is that police departments should approach social media as an extension of their community policing strategies. But this conclusion is simple only on its surface. What we are advocating for is a shift in mentality. We argue for movement away from apprehensive tiptoeing around social media as official communications controlled by a press or marketing office, to an approach that embraces a new opportunity for direct engagement with the public. Social media, by our view, is not a new gadget to be treated with reluctant curiosity and fear, it is a valuable tool that helps build legitimacy in the eyes of the communities that police serve.
We consider as well the details of how to execute a strategy from the mindset of engagement. “Community policing on social media” makes a great headline, but effective incorporation requires more than just applying a label and learning how to use Twitter. A real strategy should consider training, guidelines, staffing and resources, best practices, and most importantly goals and performance measures. These are topics we will continue to write about, always against our underlying theme – that the workings of a social media strategy should align with the broader goals of the department, and that its use towards those goals should be characterized by proactive engagement, not by apprehension and fear.