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Social Media: How Police Agencies Are Re-writing the Communications Handbook

Sgt. Jason Cullum is Public Information Officer for the Evansville (Indiana) Police Department and a 2016 Senior Law Enforcement Fellow, COPS Office

For many years, law enforcement agencies held tight to their belief that information is sacred, seldom to be shared with the outside world. Our inner workings and daily activities were kept close to the vest. That’s how it was always done, so that’s how it was always to be done.

Then along came social media and expectations changed. As social media evolved, people found a way to be more connected with the world around them. This included staying in contact with friends and family who lived many miles away. It allowed people to follow their favorite athlete or celebrity’s daily life.

It did not take long for proactive agencies to realize social media could be used to benefit them in their efforts to be engaged in their communities. We all started with the basics, Facebook and Twitter. Many other platforms have been created and we have found that each provide us with the chance to reach different audiences. We found that the millions of people using these platforms were very interested in what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.

More importantly, we found a way to overcome the issue of mainstream media being the only source of information. We have always known that we do a lot of positive things in our communities. We have also always known that the mainstream media does not devote the same amount of resources to positive stories as they do negative.

Our stories are now in our hands. We can tell them on our own terms. I really believe an informed public is a supportive public. In the five years I have served as the PIO for my agency, we have used social media to share numerous stories that show our officers being generous, kind, compassionate, brave in the face of danger, funny, and most importantly, human. The use of social media helps build a support network that stands tall with you when you need it most. We do not know when that time will come, but it will come when you least expect it.

While there is still information that needs to be withheld to protect an investigation or to ensure we do not violate someone’s rights, there are numerous things we can share every day. The use of social media by police agencies is becoming more commonplace every day. Based on the overwhelming popularity of the PIO Track at the recent IACP Conference in San Diego, I think it is safe to say that many agencies are making social media work for them.

Social media is a free tool that we can use to strengthen our community relationships, engage our youth, and tell our own story. If you are not using social media at all or not using it to its full potential, now is the time to do so. Your supporters are out there waiting to connect with you. Don’t leave it up to someone else to tell your story.

Sgt. Jason Cullum
Evansville, Indiana Police Department
Senior Law Enforcement Fellow, COPS Office

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