Use and Impact of Social Media in Community Policing
Posted: 1 Apr 2015
Date Written: August 15, 2015
Today, the Freedom of Information Act and other reporting requirements compel police, and many government agencies, to collect and share huge quantities and many types of data. Ironically, these public servants possess few guidelines on how best to ethically collect and analyze the data that enable them to perform their jobs and direct them how to communicate with, and solve problems in, their community. Hence, our objective is to identify a set of general, ethical, social media principles, policies and processes to help police and similarly situated government agencies to: (1) improve their functioning and performance by helping them better understand and share the large amount of social media data they currently collect or are poised to collect; and (2) better engage with the public through the use of social media and analysis of these data. This objective advances larger community and societal goals. We especially note President Obama’s 2009 Memorandum on Open Government that exhorted government agencies to create greater transparency, collaboration and participation. And now, in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri we hear renewed calls for community policing to restore lost trust by nurturing a dynamic, interacting set of infrastructures, processes, stakeholders, strategies and outcomes. We believe that through adhering to ethical guidelines for gathering and sharing information through social media, police forces can take steps to win back the trust of their stakeholders.
Hence, this study will highlight patterns of ethical use of social media by municipal police and their citizen communities. We do so through our research on four Massachusetts communities. We assess how Twitter and Facebook in particular affect relationships with subsets of the communities who exhibit different levels of interaction with social media, and how their communications differ during routine vs. non-routine use. Our methods partner big data analytics with case analysis to uncover patterns of use to gauge social media’s impact on the police departments, their communities and the larger society.
We will report results of comparative case studies of four Massachusetts police departments for whom we interviewed the individuals involved in using or managing their social media. We also will discuss key relevant information and documents related to each department’s social media use. The four departments represent communities of different size and demographics as well as varying degrees of social media adoption and experience. We will augment this case study material with approximately 8 gigabytes of Facebook and Twitter data posts by and to the four police departments collected over a 90 day period in summer 2014. Through the use of sophisticated data analytic techniques such as the SAS Text Miner tool in the SAS Enterprise Miner data mining package (based on latent semantic analysis or LSA) and Timeline construction software, we will present patterns in our social media data and relate them to events occurring in each department and its community.
Our work will contribute to research on open government. Various studies have shown that increased openness (i.e., transparency, collaboration, participation) leads in some cases to increased trust. In the area of community policing, it is possible that increased transparency, collaboration and participation, as facilitated through social media, could lead to increased trust and related improvements in community relations.
Keywords: social media, community policing, big data analytics
JEL Classification: O33, O38, C89
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation