Law enforcement agencies across the country continue to use social media networks for criminal investigations, public relations campaigns and crime prevention activities, according to a survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
Of the 600 agencies surveyed by the IACP, 95% indicated that they used social media in some way. Criminal investigation was the most common use of social media, and Facebook remained the platform used by most departments. Twitter and YouTube were also commonly used.
Among the few departments not currently using social media, nearly 56% said they were considering doing so. More than 70% of the agencies surveyed indicated they have a social media policy and about 12% reported they were in the process of creating a policy.
Nearly 80% of respondents indicated that social media has helped them solve crimes and improved police-community relations in their jurisdictions.
The results of the 2014 social media survey, the fifth conducted by the IACP, were generally in line with last year’s survey, which comprised 500 agencies. More than 83% of the responding agencies in 2014 were municipal police departments and a vast majority employed between six and 249 sworn officers.
In criminal investigations, most agencies indicated they used social media to review suspect profiles and track activities. Other common investigative uses for social media included posting surveillance videos, assuming online identities for the gathering of information, and reviewing the profiles and activities of crime victims.
Aside from criminal investigations, most agencies said they used social media to notify the public of crime problems, as well as for community outreach and public relations programs. Disseminating disaster-related information was another common use for social media, according to survey results.
In Nevada, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office has initiated a Warrant Wednesday program on its Facebook page. Each week, the department posts a photo of a wanted suspect and asks for the public’s help in locating the individual. The DeKalb County Police Department in Georgia recently joined Nextdoor, a private social networking site where police officers and community residents can share information.
In Florida, the Melbourne Police Department uses Twitter to announce arrests and officer awards and recognitions, as well as to seek help in locating suspects or identifying victims.
Fewer Agencies Offering Social Media Training
Rising social media use among law enforcement agencies mirrors trends in the general population. About 73% of U.S. adults who go online are active on social networks, with widespread use of multiple social media sites, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project.
Although some law enforcement agencies have been slow to embrace social media, they can’t afford to ignore this shift, according to Professor Jim Reynolds, Academic Program Chair for Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
“Just a few years ago this was a novelty and now it is part of everyday life for almost everybody,” Reynolds, a former deputy chief of the Melbourne Police Department, previously told Florida Tech University Online.
Despite the growing use of social media among law enforcement, the percentage of agencies providing social media training for employees decreased year over year. In 2013, 46% of responding agencies indicated that in-service training in social media was provided. That fell to 44.8% in the 2014 survey.
The percentage of agencies that provided training during police academy also decreased, from 23.7% in 2013 to 17.6% in 2014.
“Just because the agencies use these resources does not mean they use them well,” said Reynolds, who helped develop Florida Tech’s Criminal Justice and the Media course, which explores law enforcement use of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.