Social Media and Neighborhood-Based Policing Officers: A Path Forward

If you look at the way most law enforcement agencies are using social media, you will notice a few themes. First, you will see how agencies are showing the human and compassionate side of policing with pictures of officers posing with kids, playing basketball, and even some officers dancing with youth such as a Washington, D.C., officer doing the Nae Nae to break up a fight.

Agencies are also using social media tell stories about how their work is making their communities safer by sharing pictures of drug seizures, guns taken off the streets, and key arrests and asking for the public for assistance locating wanted suspects.

Humor is also playing a contributing role. On February 18th, 2016, the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Police Department gained national and international attention by responding to Kanye West’s pleas for financial assistance, tweeting “We R hiring,@kanyewest! Starting salary of $47,920; u could be debt-free by the year 3122!” Their tweet got more than 25,000 retweets and 22,000 likes.

These feel-good “air game” public relations–focused communications are important, as they humanize departments and help positively shape public perception. The question then becomes, is there a role social media can play to help neighborhood-based community policing officers inform, educate, and activate the residents with whom they are charged to protect and serve? The answer is yes!

Until a couple of years ago, “ground game” communications typically involved flyers, posters, and brochures distributed by patrol and community liaison officers. The challenge with these types of communications is that they are expensive, require ample time and resources, and have limited reach and effectiveness. E-mail helped improve outreach but typically only to a couple of dozen neighbors and, in rare cases, a couple hundred. Even so, proportional to the size of the entire community, the reach was minuscule.

Today, law enforcement access to social media is typically limited to departments’ public information officers. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the New York City Police Department, where all precinct commanders have Twitter accounts. This approach, however, leaves out the patrol and community liaison officers who are walking the beat, attending community meetings, and problem solving on a daily basis with residents.
How, then, do neighborhood-based community policing officers engage their residents with social media? The answer is Nextdoor's free government interface, Nextdoor for Public Agencies.

If you are not familiar with Nextdoor, it is the private social network for neighborhoods being used by neighbors in more than 93,000 neighborhoods (covering more than 50 percent of all U.S. neighborhoods). Nextdoor neighborhood networks are started by residents who want to connect with their neighbors and talk about the issues that matter most to them. As such, these are true grassroots communities started by the neighbors themselves.

Nextdoor for Public Agencies allows neighborhood-based community policing officers from 800 public safety departments like the police departments in Los Angeles; St. Louis, Missouri; Atlanta; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Baltimore, Maryland; to join in on the conversation. With access to Nextdoor for Public Agencies, authorized personnel within a public agency can target messages and engage with members in one, many, or all of the Nextdoor neighborhood networks. Messages can also be targeted to geographic areas such as police precincts. Agencies can use Nextdoor to inform residents about crime trends, educate them about programs and resources, and encourage them to take actions and change behaviors to make their neighborhoods safer and stronger.

Using Nextdoor for Public Agencies, patrol and community service officers are also able to engage the residents who can’t or don’t attend community meetings. A larger audience means more residents who understand what is happening in their neighborhoods, more residents who take action, and more residents having open communication with their local officer.

With ground-game communications between officers and residents now possible at various scales, departments have a new tool in their toolbox to provide better customer service, increase transparency and trust, and partner with their residents to deter and reduce crime.

Departments looking to step up their community-policing social media ground game can learn more about Nextdoor for Public Agencies by visiting or find me on Twitter at @JosephPorcelli.

Joseph Porcelli
Senior City Strategist and Professional Neighbor

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