June 17, 2020 | View as webpage

Turbulent doesn’t even begin to describe the environment your officers have been operating in since the death of George Floyd on May 25. Over the past 23 days, police have responded nationwide to protests and riots, dealing with widespread looting and destruction. In Las Vegas, a police officer who was shot in the head during a protest is paralyzed and on a ventilator; in St. Louis, a retired captain was shot to death by looters at a pawn shop. Yesterday, President Trump announced his Safe Policing for Safe Communities executive order, while both the Democrats and Republicans have introduced police reform bills.

What would Sir Robert Peel – the father of modern policing – think of the changes that are happening at lightning speed, asks Chief Joel Shults in this Leadership Briefing. Effectively using social media will enable police departments to stay ahead of the evolving dialogue, argue Yael Bar-tur and Mathew Rejis, who outline why departments must start viewing public information, and social media especially, as an integral tool in policing.

As a police leader, what is the one thing you are most concerned about as police reform is discussed on the nightly news? Email editor@policeone.com.

P.S. It is critical law enforcement leaders share policing best practices with their communities during the national debate on police reform. Forward this newsletter to your professional contacts to ensure they stay informed and encourage them to sign up here.

Stay safe.

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1.com

What would Sir Robert Peel do?
By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D. 

No police academy cadet or criminal justice student can fail to know who Sir Robert Peel was, at least by name.

Author of the famous nine Peelian principles, which are referenced often in Police1 articles, Peel was Britain’s Home secretary – roughly equivalent to our Secretary of State – with responsibilities for safety and security.

Peel lived during an era of reform in England in the 1820s where he served in various government capacities. He supported changes in tariffs that concentrated wealth among the land-owning classes, changes in labor laws to reduce child labor in factories and mines, and reducing the use of the death penalty.

A keen observer of social behavior, in 1829 Peel established London's Metropolitan Police with several foundational philosophies. These included a realization that the public will tolerate only so much law enforcement, that the cooperation and involvement of the public are critical to law enforcement’s success, and that use of physical force must occur within the bounds of public acceptance and only at the failure of persuasion.

But Peel also said some other things. For example, Peelian principle number five states that police "seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.” Modern leaders, both in policing and in politics (an often blurred line), struggle with listening to public consensus, and enforcing the laws as written without fear or favor. Awash in the current wave of protests and instant police reform proposals, how can law enforcement continue to enforce the law when even routine and appropriate enforcement is called misconduct?

Brainyquote.com cites these additional nuggets of Peelian wisdom:

  • Agitation is the marshaling of the conscience of a nation to mold its laws, but after this natural burst of indignation, no man of sense, courage, or prudence will waste his time or his strength in retrospective reproaches.
  • There seem to me to be very few facts, at least ascertainable facts, in politics.
  • Public opinion is a compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy and newspaper paragraphs.
  • The Reform Bill has destroyed the ancient conduits and strainers, and brings public opinion to act upon the government with the rapid, turbulent and uncertain violence of a flood!

It appears that the father of modern policing was not merely an idealist, but a political realist as well. Tempests, mobs and shouts for reform were not new in the 1800s nor are they new today. Whether the winnowing of the extreme rhetoric into useful conversations will accomplish meaningful improvements in public safety is hard to say. We are tempted to say that things calmed down after every upheaval in American history as attitudes, laws, court battles and cultural expectations changed.

The difference is that today’s movements develop literally at the speed of light with digital narratives overwhelming deliberate investigation and analysis. No opinion goes unpublished or unchallenged. Language and protocol for addressing issues of race are very narrow and volatile. The license given by politicians to violence and destruction legitimizes any means by which to communicate any rage. Can we recover?

Considering patterns of the past we expect that violent protests and the intensity of lawful protests will diminish. There will be promises of new laws, regulations, funding, oversight and attention to policing. Some unwise legislation will pass in the heat of the moment. Most proposals will duplicate things already being done. But mostly voices will soften as politicians promise and the news cycle attaches to a new crisis. We’ll find that we never really understood the real issues at their depth or never really solved whatever problems there were, but we can all feel good about the noise we made and the votes the panderers under the marble domes retained.

In the interim, while crime rates rise and people begin hoping that the police will come, we need the rational voices of others. Slapping the hands of the police as a solution to racism may feel good for the moment, but in the path from gestation to prison, a person’s life has many influences and policing is just a blip. All the police reform in the world, however justified and worthy, will not solve it. Thinking that it will, can only delay the real solutions. I think Peel might agree.

NEXT: Trump’s take on police reform

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Now do you recognize the power of social media?

By Yael Bar-tur and Mathew Rejis

There is not one police agency in the country that hasn’t been affected by the tragic death of George Floyd and the national outcry that followed, primarily fueled by social media.

Within weeks, social media activism has managed to drastically shift the national conversation around policing and public safety. Very quickly the conversation overflowed from Twitter and into your city streets and town councils, impacting everything from police recruitment to budgets, not to mention the morale of your officers.

None of this is new to you, and you’ve experienced it before; every time a terrible anomaly in policing that has nothing to do with your specific agency is caught on camera and spreads like wildfire online. When that happens, you are Minneapolis. You are Ferguson. And your officers find themselves on the front line of a battle they have no idea how to handle. What makes this specific instance different, however, is the speed at which it continues to evolve online.

In a time when public information crises are more common than most critical policing incidents, why are most police departments still treating social media as an afterthought?

Departments must start viewing public information, and social media especially, as an integral tool in policing, rather than a public relations endeavor or a “nice to have.” Communication builds and maintains trust, and allows you to preserve the faith your community has entrusted in you to protect its safety. However, just because you have a social media account, doesn’t mean you are using it correctly. Many departments are not even close.

Social media needs a messaging strategy and one that closely aligns with your agency's overall strategy. It needs sufficient staffing by officers and/or civilians who are solely committed to it and can be in tune with it 24/7 since timing is everything in this medium. Those people need to be fluent in the language of social media and constantly adapt and optimize your messaging to fit the masses, and reach people beyond your immediate supporters.

A few late-night whispers on Twitter – laced with misinformation – can quickly become a formalized conversation by the next morning and action by the afternoon. The 2015 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing went so far as to dedicate a pillar of the findings to not just the importance of having a social presence, but ensuring the personnel staffing those positions fully understand the power of the medium, and that was five years ago!

Agencies also need to stop thinking of social media as an extension of their press relations arm, or as a platform to only connect with journalists. If you do so, you are limiting yourself to reactive messaging, and not unleashing the full power of the platforms.

The goal of social media is to create your own stories and engage directly with your communities, without the need for a filter or “courier.” Use social media to break your news and tell stories through the eyes of your officers, as well as connect with residents about what they want, and at times, need to hear, and not necessarily what will make the nightly news.

Social media done right requires a commitment to transparency, conversation, timeliness and yes, a certain amount of relinquishing control. It may sound scary, but a reality without it is scarier. These conversations are currently happening without you, shaping your narrative and potentially the future of public safety in your communities.

If you’re not telling your story or shaping your narrative, someone else is.

NEXT: How to match your agency’s social media strategy with community needs

About the authors

Yael Bar-tur is a social media consultant who previously served as the director of social media and digital strategy for the New York City Police Department where she developed her own strategy and training guide for social media and policing. She has trained hundreds of members of service on the use of social media, both in the NYPD and in other agencies. She is also responsible for exploring new channels for the NYPD and creating viral videos with millions of views. Follow Yael on Twitter or at www.yaelbartur.com.

Mathew Rejis currently serves as the Senior Public Communications Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department and is responsible for developing the LAPD’s social media strategy, and training personnel on the use of social media. Before joining the LAPD, Officer Rejis worked for a Los Angeles-based advertising agency building digital ads and developing a social media strategy for clients. Follow LAPD on Twitter

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