Can Social Media Benefit Law Enforcement?

Can Social Media Benefit Law Enforcement?

Social media has become a widespread presence that touches the lives of countless people over the past decade. There are certain risks for people that use social media, especially if they work in a public, financial, or legal field. For police officers, poor judgment or oversharing can endanger the safety of officers and compromise criminal cases, increasing their exposure to civil and criminal liability. However, more and more police departments are finding that they can use social media for good. So the question is, can Social Media Benefit Law Enforcement?

Law enforcement agencies can use social media for public relations, crime prevention, and even criminal investigations. Departments that create a presence on social media sites open new doors of communication with the general public. Experts believe that by doing so, citizens can receive real-time information, as well as an electronic method of asking questions, making suggestions, and providing tips that can ultimately help solve crimes. For example, in 2011 Kentucky State Police investigators posted photos of jewelry, a tattoo, and a facial composite relating to an unknown body found 10 years earlier. This additional evidence provided in response to the post enabled investigators to identify the deceased person.

While social media is understandably not a top priority for many law enforcement officials, other ways having a social media presence has benefited police departments and communities is by:

  • Building a trustworthy relationship and a sense of community by engaging with each other.
  • Gaining control over the department’s reputation with the community.
  • Providing a forum for people to ask questions and for police officers to share tips they otherwise wouldn’t share.
  • Spread knowledge quickly and with minimal effort that can help protect communities, catch suspects, find missing persons, etc.

Although there are great benefits to using social media, it is imperative that law enforcement agencies understand the problems that can arise when they mix their work life with their personal life on social media. Doing so in an inappropriate way can bring discredit to them and their departments. Be sure that you are clear with your officers and staff about what is appropriate and what is not. It may be a good idea to write up a social media policies and procedures handbook.

Professional Governmental Underwriters, Inc. (PGUI) is a full-service risk management company dedicated to assisting public, educational, and non-profit entities in the management of their professional liability exposures. Law Enforcement Liability coverage is essential for police departments, because the potential exists for personal responsibility for certain activities you may engage in that is not properly covered by a general liability policy. Please contact us today for more information. 800-586-6502