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Used properly, social media can better connect police departments and their communities.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
The proliferation of social media has given law enforcement additional tools to enhance community policing and solve crimes. Savvy use of social media platforms can pack a big punch in college communities like Virginia Tech, where the police department is adeptly using Facebook and Twitter (@VaTechPolice) to expand its outreach and make the most of new crime-fighting technology.
As Roanoke Times reporter Tonia Moxley wrote on Sunday, Tech’s police department ramped up its social media presence at the same time it was installing a new video security system to better monitor public places around the Blacksburg campus.
Tech police requested such a system following the April 16, 2007, mass shootings on the campus.
University lawyers vetted locations for the cameras to ensure they were installed in areas where there are no expectations of privacy.
Now a suspect’s image or license plate number captured by a security camera can be blasted out to the police department’s Facebook friends and Twitter followers and then spread like virtual wildfire. The alerts can produce almost instant results, with Facebook and Twitter users assisting police in identifying suspects. Some suspects or persons of interest have turned themselves in after being identified on social media platforms.
But the Tech police department’s social media presence is about more than solving crimes.
The department’s Facebook page and Twitter feed contain everything from weather warnings to information about self-defense classes, a bicycle tagging program and various community relations activities. Social media platforms are now common police tools, used both for criminal investigations and community outreach.
And they can be effective on college campuses, where students stay connected through Facebook, Twitter and text messages.
By using them to build stronger connections to communities, police can break down barriers to the citizens they are sworn to protect and enhance public safety in the process.
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