Facebook: A Tool for Law Enforcement to Restore Community Policing Practices
By Michael Beshears, professor of criminal justice at American Military University
The challenge for leaders in law enforcement is to find ways to utilize online social media to enable residents of the community to feel an authentic connection with the department and the police officers serving the community (Copitch & Fox, 2010). John Miller, the former head of the FBI public affairs branch, once stated that law enforcement needs to exist in the areas where people are present. Thus, if people are using online social media sites, the police need to be active there as well (FBI on Social Media, 2009).
Impact of Technology on Community Policing
Community policing is about building interpersonal relationships of trust and cooperation between the police department and the community they serve via direct interaction (Chappell, 2009). Unfortunately, as technology has evolved, citizen interaction with police has become more limited.
On one hand, technology has enhanced police response to citizen needs. The creation of the 9-1-1 emergency call system made it possible for a citizen to instantly request police assistance. When a call is dispatched, an officer responds.
However, such rapid response also means that officers often have less time to spend on crime prevention or casual interaction with the community (Community Policing Consortium, 1994). As a result, the officer spends a lot of time in the patrol vehicle (somewhat like a mobile office), with no viable means of easily interacting with the community (Dye, 2009). Spending more time in a patrol car is counterintuitive to the philosophy of community policing. While this is certainly not the fault of individual officers, it is something that officers need to be aware of and do their best to engage citizens face-to-face to reinvigorate the community policing model.
The Community Policing Consortium (1994) agreed that police technology, as well as departmental policies introduced due to technological advancements, have contributed to social distancing between police officers and the community. If the problem is technology-driven, perhaps the solution to the problem should be technology driven as well.
Social Media Sites as a Way to Engage the Public
The ideology behind community policing as a philosophy is to engage and involve local community residents with law enforcement to fight crime in one’s own neighborhood (Chappell, 2009). Online social media sites used by police departments to engage the community and solve crime create an interesting dichotomy of technological issues. Since the introduction of the concept of community policing, police departments have struggled with ways to increase their involvement with the local community residents and law enforcement (Dye, 2009). Social media websites like Facebook may be the answer.
Facebook served more than 1 million active users in 2004. Today, it is used by more than 802 million daily active users. Many law enforcement agencies have found that such social media platforms are helping to build and renew community trust and enhance community participation.
How does your agency use social media? Do you think the community is more or less engaged with your department than they were before social media became so popular? Can social media ever replace face-to-face interactions with law enforcement?
About the Author: Michael L. Beshears has two B.S. degrees, one in psychology and another in criminal justice from Drury University. He also has two graduate degrees, a M.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a M.A. in health services management from Webster University. Mike is a retired senior noncommissioned Officer in the U.S. Army. His 22-year career includes work with the Special Forces, as well as assisting other agencies in their performance of criminal investigations. He has an extensive background in emergency medicine and intensive care medical treatment, as a Special Forces medic, emergency medical technician and licensed practical nurse. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in business with a concentration in criminal justice. He has three grown beautiful daughters Michele, Cora and Mollye. He resides with his wife Michelle and their son Hunter, and daughter Malia near Norfork and Bull Shoals Lakes in Clarkridge, Arkansas. Mike is currently an assistant Professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is full-time faculty in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at michael.beshears(at)mycampus.apus.edu.
Chappell, A. T., (2009).The philosophical versus actual adoption of Community Policing: A case study, Criminal Justice Review 2009 34: 5. Originally published online 2 December 2008, Sage Publications. doi: 10.1177/0734016808324244
Community Policing Consortium (1994), Understanding community policing: A Framework for Action, Monograph, NCJ 148457, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Washington, DC.
Copitch, G., & Fox, C. (2010). Using social media as a means of improving public confidence. Safer Communities, 9(2), 42. Retrieved from Career and Technical Education.
Dye, S., (2009) Policing in local law enforcement: A commitment to getting out-of-the-car. The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 10, October 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA. Retrieved from http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=1908&issue_id=102009
FBI on Social Media, (2009). Stories; Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2009/may/socialmedia_051509