Police Use ‘Social Media First’ Strategy in Pandemic

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During the coronavirus pandemic, fewer news reporters and camera crews are being sent to crime scenes or news conferences,  creating “opportunities for agencies to shape stories by collecting and disseminating video and audio footage,” reports the Police Executive Research Forum.

The think tank says communications with public information officers in law enforcement around the U.S. suggest that many police agencies are adopting a “social media first” strategy.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, police department blogs, and other social media platforms are effective for communicating directly with the public, says PERF, noting that many reporters pick up stories directly from police and sheriffs’ departments’ social media channels.

PERF advises law enforcement agencies that “now is a good time for generating ‘good news’ stories. With so many news stories focused on grim COVID-19 news, media personnel and the community are hungry for positive stories not related to the pandemic. Stories about the heroic or community-minded actions by police officers can fill that void.”

The forum adds: “Law enforcement agencies are working to send the message that the police are still out in the community answering calls, taking reports, and working to prevent crime.”

Anthony Guglielmi, public information officer for the Fairfax County, Va. police, and formerly PIO in Baltimore and Chicago, told PERF that journalists in the Washington, D.C., area are “not covering things the same way, because they also are teleworking.”

“For a lot of the routine police activities they would normally cover, I’ve noticed they’re sending a helicopter over scenes to get B-roll, then asking us for information,” said Guglielmi.

“And when they are covering events like press conferences, they’re using pool reporters and pool cameras, then sharing the material among stations. Print reporters seem to like Zoom and Microsoft Teams video chats.”

Josh Rubenstein, PIO for the Los Angeles Police Department, says, “We’re using social media outlets, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, to do direct communication with our residents. They ask us questions, and we reply back with answers or resources. It’s another way to connect.

“We’ve held community forums where the chief would do a Zoom call with special stakeholder groups …We also put together a series of live events on Facebook for school-aged children who are stuck inside all day.”

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