THUNDER BAY – Crimebeat – Editorial – “Working to provide proactive interaction with the community to enhance the feeling of safety and security in Barrie”. A simple statement but one that makes a lot of sense in today’s growing reach of police services to make a real difference in their communities.
As witnessed last week, with two RCMP officers being shot and wounded on the job in Alberta, the job that our front-line police officers provide to Canadians is one that offers danger, risk and stress to those officers.
A police officer is actually more of a representation of the community they serve than anything else. They are the face of law and order, but also members of the community too. Through social media, increasingly police services across Canada are able to reach out to their fellow residents, and to seek the instant support of those citizens in their ongoing efforts to keep our communities safer.
For many police services, Twitter appears a great way for Officers and Police Services to engage the public.
Barrie Ontario has a population of about 134,000. The communitities growth was very rapid with about a 25 percent rate of growth up until 2006. The latest figures peg the growth at just under six percent.
Though the police service, reaching out via social media, the Barrie Police Service are demonstrating an increased understanding of how new tools are an important new method for law enforcement to connect with the public they serve.
On Twitter, many Chiefs of Police and other officers and police services have joined in the ongoing conversation.
Sometimes the tweets are completely related to business, other times one is offered an insight into the real face of the officers who are serving their communities. Last night Toronto Police Service Staff Sergeant Chris Boddy tweeted, “Snap! #LadyGaga is wearing the same outfit I bought my wife for Valentine’s Day? #wreckedthesurprise #Grammys” – it generated many re-tweets and comments about the comment being the joke of the day.
If you watched the Grammy Awards last night and saw the outfit Lady Gaga was wearing, you really got a great insight into how police officers, just like the rest of us are real people.
The long term impact is likely to be very positive as residents of the communities served by those police services start seeing the police as a part of their community and “one of us”.
By using new technology, the Toronto Police Service, one of the leaders in North America in terms of social media, are actually employing the basic rules of modern policing as outlined by Sir Robert Peel. “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence”.
As the Toronto Police Service launched its social media project last summer, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said, “The biggest change for us (with the new technology) is our culture. We are not used to this type of decentralized, high-speed, highly interactive information-sharing environment. Traditionally, policing is a very hierarchal and para-military culture. We don’t give our frontline people a lot of opportunity to speak on behalf of our organization. This is changing all of that and because of that radical change, it made people like me very nervous. It took a lot of convincing and once the lights went on in my head, the lights went on right across the police service. ‘What I love about this approach is that it’s bottom up. It’s our frontline people — those responsible for public safety and interacting with the public – that are telling us that this is the way we need to go”.
That is the real challenge for those police services who have yet to engage social media as a worthwhile tool in their arsenal against crime. Overcoming their grip on the past is critical to being able to embrace the future.
Chief Content Officer