Dallas Police Department Rolls Out Aggressive Social Media Strategy


By: Lauri Stevens

As one of the 10 largest police departments in the country, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) was keenly aware of the power of social media to engage citizens and prevent and solve crime. Having already made its mark with social media use by its officers, the DPD made a bold move when it undertook a recent overhaul of its social media program. (Full disclosure: The DPD is a client of my company, LAwS Communications.)

The project began last summer and culminated with the launch of the first phase of the new program at the end of February.

Today, the department’s social media efforts span the following:

? Approximately 80 members, sworn and civilian, representing the department on Twitter.

? Using Pinterest to reunite owners with their stolen property.

? A department blog.

? Currently experimenting with streaming live press conferences straight to its YouTube channel via Google Hangouts on Air.

? Facebook pages for all seven patrol divisions and many specialty units.

Visually, each of these DPD social media profiles have a cohesive, professional and consistent design.

Lightning Rod

No social media effort of this magnitude would be possible without significant buy-in at the highest level. DPD Chief David Brown says he doesn’t know a lot about social media but understands he has to take a lead role. “We can’t be a closed camp and not be willing to extend our relationships into the community,” he says. “To me, this is a no-brainer.”

The chief’s own social media use is quite controversial. When a reporter used a curse word to describe him, he tweeted using the same word and asked her not to call him that. He’s also taken to reporting the outcomes of disciplinary hearings, including when an officer is fired, the reason why and the officer’s name.

Add in that he’s the guy standing behind what is probably the most aggressive social media rollout for any law enforcement agency in the United States to date, and it’s no surprise he’s become a target for criticism.

Brown said he often learns from his critics because he listens for opportunities to connect. Pay close attention to their words, he says, and you’ll find that it’s usually a case of them not understanding the message. “But we’re connecting in a way that’s creating dialog. To me dialog is good even if it’s critical. You can’t have a thin skin in this business; we get criticized for everything we do,” he says.

The criticism has come from the media, the police unions, from within his own ranks and from his police chief colleagues. “My colleagues say ?be careful, don’t piss off the unions,’ and I know I’m going to have to balance a lot of what we do with labor, but the public is what’s important to me,” Brown says. “I’m willing to balance more toward public support.”

Many enlightened police leaders have pointed out that the culture of social media is in direct conflict with traditional police culture. Brown points out that while community policing has been around for 30 years, police are still struggling with how to be real with the public, to show “all of our flaws but at the same time show how much good police do in the community.”

More to Come

This is only the beginning for Dallas PD. Next phases of the strategy call for more DPD members to connect with the public, and from more units, until potentially every unit in the agency is using social media to build relationships with community members to increase communication, cooperation and trust.

The strategy is designed in three phases, each growing the program in breadth and depth while maintaining alignment with its culture. It calls for strengthening the DPD’s investigative initiatives via social media?not just with an investigations policy but also a more sophisticated use of LE-specific monitoring tools.

The agency also has a very progressive communications policy that provides guidance and encouragement to its members, without being overly restrictive, for both on-duty and off-duty social media use.

All of the above came from months of researching citizen personas, matching technology to newly developed objectives and communicating results.

Dallas’ top cop admits he doesn’t have all the answers, but he adds, “I’m curious about what social media can do for law enforcement. I just know that the old, traditional ways are not going to provide the communication we need to be successful in the future. I’m convinced this is the way forward; it’s just figuring out the best way to do it. As chief, I have to be flexible to let that happen?and not be in the way.”

Source: Law Officer

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