There is no doubt that Twitter is a powerful force for change permeating law enforcement endeavor worldwide. Many law enforcement agencies are utilizing Tweets to rapidly disburse accurate information as well as facilitate public relations efforts with their communities and media outlets. In March of last year over 230 police departments from at least 10 countries participated in a global virtual “ride-a-long” campaign which utilized the social media platform to increase public and industry awareness of the power of social media. According to web data collectors Bright Planet, the 24-hour tweet-a-thon rendered roughly 48,482 tweets utilizing the #poltwt hashtag from 15,621 users. This phenomenon caught the attention of law enforcement officials, ultimately paving the way for hundreds of police departments across the nation to focus more efforts on engaging their publics through social media.
The Palo Alto P.D. is a forerunner in successful integrations of social media into daily agency operations. In an attempt to maximize police and media cooperation, this California department has reached out to local news outlets to fully explore the potential of Twitter’s cross-promotional capabilities. By interacting with local reporters and stations on Twitter through hashtag links and handle shout-outs cross-promotion is proving to be highly advantageous in generating public awareness and rapport. Providing factual information in real time has been an obstacle for police in the past, as social media has been used to perpetuate incorrect information thus posing a huge liability risk for the department. The law enforcement-media alliance has helped to curb the amount of incorrect reports, by allowing more reporters access to accurate material as soon as the information becomes known. Palo Alto units have even been known to post “behind-the-scenes” photographs of interviews and press release videos incorporating their news partners into the content, for example an image of the news crew interviewing an official.
Social medial utilization has indeed proven to benefit many law agencies. The implementation of social media strategies has vastly shifted the way public safety officials interacts with their communities, but not without additional liability risks. Law enforcement departments can increasingly be held liable for the information they distribute through social media platforms. Additional exposure to liability risks comes with any new endeavor and should be mitigated properly.
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