Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to be providing you with the valuable insights of Patrice Cloutier, emergency information and crisis communications, emergency management and business continuity specialist, on a recent social media incident faced by the Regina Police.
The Regina Police Service recently encountered a storm it never really saw coming. After one of its officers shot a dog in a backyard during a foot chase, an onslaught of negative comments and posts flooded their Facebook account. Their reaction? To shut the whole thing down, according to a news report:
“Since we are unable to ensure that only our community members are posting and that the conversation remains civil and free of profanity, hate speech and the promotion of violence, we must remove this page for the time being until we have more resources or a more in-depth policy in place,” the statement read.
Now, I’m forced to ask myself: was this the right move?
Social media is a brand new sphere of activity for many law enforcement and public safety agencies. As such, a clear, generally accepted protocol on how to interact with citizens on social networks is still in its infancy. A good resource is the International Association Chiefs of Police social media website which is a treasure of useful info. Another good site is the Twitter help page for police.
Let me add my own voice and provide some tips:
- Have a clear, and public, policy on comments/posts on your accounts/website, including what’s allowed, what’s not allowed and how you’ll go about making that determination
- Ensure you have enough trained staff to administer your accounts/pages
- Err on the side of openness, unless public safety and officer security is at risk
- Engage. Don’t just shut the conversations down
That last point is critical. Police services are ALL about community interactions. Interacting on social media is just another form of community policing. Some services do this admirably (the Toronto Police Service, for example).
Are there haters out there? Absolutely. But police services will benefit from engaging with their critics. Public confidence is built on trust and trust is a result of dialogue . Those are key social media imperatives.
Patrice Cloutier is currently Team Lead for strategic communications in the Communications Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. As such, he plays a key role in the planning and delivery of emergency information at the provincial level and in crisis communications planning. Patrice spent close to 10 years as a reporter and broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada and as a freelance journalist. He’s an avid blogger and social media enthusiast. Connect with Patrice on Twitter.