The Internet, most of all social media, have affected our ways communicating. Regular contact and exchange via social media have become a matter of course and an integral part of this world. Since police units engage with citizens on a daily basis it is obvious that they have to keep abreast of the times and should be capable to use social media and modern technology adequately and responsibly.
In Germany, various police organisations have integrated the professional use of social media in their everyday work activities. Facebook profiles as representations of the respective agencies are now rather common among police institutions (e.g. Lower Saxony Police). Additionally, the use of ?Twitter? has become more and more popular as a tool to support communication between police and citizens during major events (e.g. Bavarian Police at the G7 summit in 2015). This can be seen to symbolize regular and uninterrupted efforts to establish modernized communication avenues with citizens.
Obviously, there are advantages concerning the new communication and interaction between citizens and police. In spite of these positive effects for the participants, the risks do have to be considered as well. Due to current demands, there is a controversial public discussion in Germany about how to deal with smartphone camera/picture documentation and subsequent postings of rescue measures and police operations in social networks.
On April 13, 2016, a child was involved in a car accident while crossing a red traffic light near the Central Station of the city of Hagen. She suffered severe injuries. Rescue measures like the landing of the emergency helicopter were obstructed by sensation-seeking bystanders. Non-helping bystanders took videos of the victim and the rescue measures via smartphone without offering help or providing enough space for the arriving paramedics. Local Police had to use patrol cars to move bystanders out of the way of emergency vehicles. Police officers were asked by amateur cameramen in the crowd of bystanders to step aside so they would not block the camera perspective of their smartphone.
These events caused the Hagen Police Department to place a post on Facebook titled ?shame on you Central Station crowds? (?sch?mt euch, ihr Gaffer vom Hauptbahnhof?). For incidents such as the accident with the child police urged citizens to leave their smartphones in their pockets and move on. This tragic incident demonstrates the crucial need for a differentiated and more critical examination of the ?social media & public security? context.
Police may find social media information of citizens useful, or even send out a request for such data when it contributes to successful policing. Occasionally, police may be even dependent on hints from citizens or communities in order to solve cases. At the same time, there are moral, ethical and legal aspects that need to be adhered to constantly by all participants while using new information and support channels. In particular, informants should not place themselves in danger in order to obtain videos on their smartphones. Seeking picture or camera coverage cannot be an excuse for illegal action.
Currently, police practitioners and researchers of the EU Horiozon2020-project INSPEC2T are in the process of developing an app to improve and to intensify the exchange of communication between the police and the community. By using the app, it is possible for the citizens and communities to forward information to the police promptly and to simultaneously get feedback. Moreover the app contains news about the nearby environment, practical advice and a ?serious game? in the context of apps and community policing. By offering such a device, an additional communication platform can be provided and strategies of community policing can be enhanced. Following the (negative) example given above, it is of the highest importance to consider legal, ethical, and practical risks that may occur when new communication tools are used.
In order to protect both ? the competences of the police and the citizens? rights ? a reflected and transparent approach is required to ensure a progressive development of communication between police and citizens.
Source: Inspec2t Project,?DHPOL, June 2016