Police reap benefits of social media

  • 25/06/2013

It's policing, but at 140 characters at a time.

The New Zealand Police says its use of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, has helped solve crime, predict possible transport disruptions and recruit new officers.

Their social media strategy has been so successful they've managed to surpass their goal of 600 new recruits and the cost to attract them was 29 percent lower in 2010 compared to 2008.

Police spokeswoman Karen Jones says police have about 30 different Facebook pages and 10 Twitter accounts which are run by different districts to meet individual communities' needs. Most of the posts, especially at smaller stations, are made by officers during their shifts, she says.

"In Queenstown, they'll post pictures of break-ins or CCTV footage while other pages, like Taupo, are more about community engagement – they'll post crazy videos of themselves.

"We have to be where our communities are, and it is really important to be seen to be visible."

Aside from community engagement, social media is increasingly being used as an intelligence gathering tool, she says.

"If police post an image taken from CCTV to Facebook then they [the public] will get in touch by direct message."

Sometimes it's not the public, but the offender himself who helps out the police.

Last year a Taupo man handed himself into police following a post on the Tauhara Paetiki Neighbourhood Policing Team Facebook page appealing for information on his whereabouts.

Michael Shane Hagger, 34, gained his 15 minutes of internet fame after replying to the post with the phrase "hoo rah".

Social media is also being used to help prevent crime too.

Bay of Plenty police took to their Twitter account last week during an operation into crime prevention.

Area communications spokesperson Kim Perks says the site is helpful in giving the general public a somewhat voyeuristic glimpse into what police officers get up to while on the beat.

During the operation the @BOPPolice account, which has just under 2000 followers, used the #BOPprevent hashtag to tweet about a gang member's run-in with the law.

"There's no hiding. Gang member forbidden to drive had car impounded. Hour later, same man different car; impounded again. #BOPprevent"

It also tweeted a photo of an open ground-level window of a house saying: "Police patrol stopped at this home and found no one in but windows and doors open. Don't invite burglars."  

Ms Perks says during these kinds of operations "there's a concerted effort to do a series of tweets to drive home the message".

Police would be naive if they didn't realise people get information from different sources, she says.

'If the police had a cat, it would probably break the internet'

The most popular police Facebook and Twitter accounts are the NZ Police Recruitment page which has more than 18,500 "likes" and the @BetterWorkStory account which has more than 4500 followers.

The social media accounts aren't just for arrest updates, intelligence gathering or recruiting though.

Ms Jones says animal stories seem to be particularly popular with the public.

Earlier this year a stolen alpaca found in Putaruru asleep under an apple tree generated a bit of buzz.

"Sneaking up to the animal, we attached a tow rope to its neck before leading it to our patrol car. On the way back to the station it sat with its head out the window, enjoying the ride," a Police Recruitment Facebook post read. 

"If the police had a cat, it would probably break the internet," Ms Jones says.

A blog on the Auditor-General's website last week addressed the police using social media to meet their target of recruiting more people aged 18 to 25, women, and people from the Maori, Pasifika, and Asian communities.

In 2008, police set a 600 new recruit target to hit by December 2011 amid a competitive employment market and a 61 percent drop in the recruitment budget between 2008 and 2011. 

"Alongside traditional advertising, the police decided to use social media to challenge the target groups’ perceptions and tackle other potential recruitment barriers."

The police have overarching policies for individuals, intelligence gathering and for police use of social media, but each district can establish and run their own Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Individual officers are allowed to have their own personal accounts, but were encouraged to make their settings private and be careful with what they share.

"They're dealing with offenders who potentially wish to target them [the officers] as individual[s]."

Police have also harnessed the power of Twitter through a monitoring tool called Signal to help predict possible disruptions during large events.

Ms Jones says one of Signal's first outings was during the 2011 Rugby World Cup where "tweets of interest" were used as early indications of where there might be delays in transport.

It was a tool police would use in future during large public events, she says.

Police say building a strong base of social media followers pays off and were expecting a higher recruitment rate in the 2013/14 year compared to the 2012/13 year.

3 News

source: newshub archive


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