In 21st-century policing, where community outreach comes on Twitter, surveillance tape footage is posted on YouTube and gangs are infiltrated on Facebook, reports NPR. A survey of 600 law enforcement agencies last year found that 92 percent use some form of social media. Of those, 90 percent use Facebook, 50 percent Twitter and 37 percent YouTube, said the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Officers reviewed social media profiles of suspects or victims, created undercover social identities to gather information and posted surveillance videos or images in hopes the public can help. “It’s kind of an expanded version of the good work they would do on the beat,” says Sgt. Dave Norris of the San Mateo, Ca., Police Department.
Very few police departments understand the depth of social media or have put together a comprehensive strategy on how to use it, says Lauri Stevens, founder of LAwS Communications, a consulting company that works with law enforcement agencies to create these strategies. “That is understandable because these folks aren’t trained to do that — they’re trained to be cops,” she says. It’s also a field that is constantly changing, so keeping up requires labor, time and money — resources that some agencies may not have, says Nancy Kolb, who oversees the International Association of Chiefs of Police Center for Social Media.