Police use social media to dispel rumours, fight crimes

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Initially, Lieutenant Chris Bolton, Chief of Staff for Oakland’s Chief of Police, could not see the benefits of using social media and even associated it with more risks than benefits.

However, his mindset took a 360-degree turn when One Goh, 43, entered Korean Christian school Oikos University carrying a .45-caliber handgun and murdered seven people before surrendering to police.

At that time, the Oakland Police Department only had one public information officer, in addition to Bolton. Using Twitter and Nixle, which is a public notification tool, the two officers spent the day giving out updates, sending emergency alerts and dispelling rumours.

The experience opened Bolton’s mind to the power of social media.

“That one crisis really changed my mind on how social media can be used as part of a public information strategy,” he said.

Now, the Oakland Police Department uses Nextdoor and Facebook in addition to Twitter and Nixle. They are not alone; social media has been embraced by various police departments across the country as a valuable tool to gather details from citizens, solve crimes and disperse emergency information.

In 2013, a social media survey from the International Association of Chiefs of Police showed that 96 per cent of police departments utilise social media in some capacity, while over 80 per cent indicated that it helped them solve crimes.

“It’s very energizing, I think, to be on social media from a police perspective,” said Lynn Hightower, Boise Police Department’s communications director.

“People can communicate with the police department; it’s no longer that 800-pound gorilla that no one knows how to communicate with.”

The Boise Police Department has been on social media since 2009.