Community policing is a widely-adopted model put into practice for nearly 40 years. The concept stemmed from a desire to address community concerns about rising crime rates through increased citizen involvement. To strengthen relationships with their constituents and improve their own reputations, police officers asked for assistance in solving and preventing crimes in the area.
Recent advancements in technology are altering the ways in which law enforcement agencies can incorporate community policing into their operations. By providing an easier and more efficient way for people to report crime and share information, social networks like Facebook and Twitter significantly impact how well police connect with people. Software for mobile devices facilitates and eases communication both internal and external to a department. Officers who master these digital tools may increase the effectiveness of community policing in their jurisdictions.
Social media fosters communication
Community policing combines responsive service with proactive problem-solving aimed at addressing root causes of crime. Often, this manifests after recognizing that the public can assist in crime prevention and police investigations, sharing information to the benefit of all parties. When encouraged to do so, citizens can use social networks to stay informed about public safety threats and provide tips and information to law enforcement agencies.
“The paradigm for eyewitnesses has traditionally been ‘See something; Say something,'” Nick Namikas, the co-CEO of CitizenGlobal, told The Associated Press. “So now the paradigm is shifting to ‘See something; Send us something.'”
According to a study from J.D. Power and Associates, Facebook is the most-used social media platform for service-related communication with the public. About three out of four citizens use Facebook to communicate with federal agencies, followed by 30 percent for Twitter and 17 percent for YouTube. The survey also found that almost half of study participants used social media to glean information from agencies: 29 percent ask questions, and 21 percent try to solve a problem. On average, citizens in the study contacted a federal agency through social media channels a little more often than once a month.
Nextdoor, a restricted social network that allows people living in the same neighborhood to quickly share information with each other, recently announced that it would extend its services and grant official agencies use of the platform. The site noted that law enforcement agencies will be able to bolster their individual community policing efforts by helping officers monitor crime and broadcast alerts in local neighborhoods.
Officers work to reinvigorate the community policing model
Community policing is a shared responsibility. After citizens contribute information, law enforcement agencies bear the burden of handling it properly. Social platforms that connect community and officers provide a jumping-off point for agencies to learn about and verify information as it arises. Authorities make sure the correct information is conveyed both to first responders and the public, particularly when ongoing investigations might benefit from public input.
This new use mitigates the past impact of police technology. The secure laptop turned an officer’s patrol vehicle into a mobile office, with expectations to stay connected to the department or work on professional development while on duty. The benefits of rapid response and information mobility meant less time was spent casually interacting with citizens. The Community Policing Consortium blamed technological advancements for reinforcing social distancing between officers and the community, at one point an intentional strategy to lessen corruption.
While social media does not entice an officer out of the vehicle, it does raise mutual awareness and potentially lowers barriers for future face-to-face interaction. Through shared goals and experiences, police and their neighbors are more likely to humanize their next encounter.
As Tom Wetzel, one of the creators of Internet safety program e-Copp, told PoliceOne: “Police agencies and officers should also embrace more community policing efforts where the ‘server’ and the ‘served’ work together to solve problems and make their neighborhoods safer places to live and work.”
Mobile apps speed response to an emergency
Facilitating greater public participation can create problems, however. In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, eyewitnesses flooded police and government servers with photos and videos in an effort to provide tips during a public manhunt for the bombers. The disruption may have hindered the police investigation, raising concerns about how to leverage many eyes without taxing first responder resources.
Some agencies are teaming up with online companies to create virtual space where public can contribute information away from critical systems. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, for example, has partnered with Amazon Web Services to launch Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository (LEEDIR). This giant crowd-sourcing initiative allows witnesses of an emergency incident to upload pictures, video or other tips through iOS and Android devices.
Another mobile application encourages community policing through crowd-sourced crime reporting. With Tapshield, people can alert law enforcement of crimes, forwarding the location and specifics of suspicious activity to the proper authorities. This information is then available for others in the community to see as well.
Benefits extend beyond reporting crime. Users of the digital tool can also submit non-emergency alerts, forewarning agencies about potential public safety threats. Tapshield also offers a mechanism for discreet communication in an emergency, allowing authorities to be notified of the caller’s information and GPS location without interacting directly with the application. Its creators claim that Tapshield reduces response times by as much as 47 percent.
As law enforcement agencies learn how to leverage these new technologies—by encouraging civilians to report the crimes and responding efficiently to these reports—police officers may find both their operations and community relationships improve over time.
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