Policing in the age of social media

Selfie taken as part of “I can MANifest change” campaign http://www.manifestchange.ca/


As a member of the law enforcement community for the past 8 years, I have had the opportunity to experience firsthand the effects social media has had on my profession.  This blog will explore/discuss the impact of social media based on the following categories;

  • challenges facing policing agencies and their employees
  • connecting policing agencies with their communities
  • the dissemination of information to the public
  • crimes committed via social media outlets
  • investigation of crimes with the help of social media

My exposure to social media has been mostly limited to Facebook and YouTube with some recent dabbling in Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.  I will therefore be limiting most of my discussions to those platforms with which I am familiar with for the time being.


Similar to any business or corporation, the use of social media by law enforcement agencies is significantly different from that of a single user.  There are rules to follow, images to maintain and reputations to protect.  As a result, one cannot just post whatever they like when it comes to social media accounts that are affiliated to their agencies.  My services’ HR department manages several twitter accounts which are used to disseminate information regarding the sections’ activities such as job fairs, employment postings and any hiring related information.  Our service has a media policy which must be adhered to but what exactly does that mean with regards to what can be posted without crossing any moral or ethical lines.  One must be mindful and aware that once you hit that send button you are at the mercy of the internet! A great piece which I recently discovered may help with formulating a strategy moving forward, as we aim to broaden our usage of Twitter to help with our recruitment practices.  I would hate to see my employer added to the above list of social media fails for 2015 due to an ill worded tweet or comment!


Although similar to corporations, law enforcement agencies in my opinion, face far more challenges when it comes to potential liabilities with respect to their use of social media.  Entire investigations can be lost based on information leaked or obtained via social media.  Victims or potential suspects lives can be ruined as well as officers and employees of the agency.  Law enforcement agencies need not worry about public scrutiny causing their stock to suffer as we learned with United Airlines and Dave Carroll.  Instead there is a far more human impact as public trust is essential to their success.  Any doubt raised surrounding the competency or integrity of the agency severely decreases the ability of said agency to effectively function.  The most recent example of this would be Ferguson, Missouri where the media sparked a social media frenzy which has divided a country from the streets all the way to congress.

I hope to spark some group discussions, acquire some feedback, opinions and advice on how I can best utilize social media moving forward while still respecting the rules that guide me in my current role with Ottawa Police Service.  I invite you all to come visit us at @ottawapolicehr, @opsrecruiting.  I look forward to reading your comments.





One thought on “Policing in the age of social media

  1. Hi there,

    I think your comments about social media as it pertains to large organizations are well founded. It’s one thing to have a personal account and be communicating with the outside world, but for a large, especially taxpayer-funded organization such as a police service to be communicating on social media there need to be a lot of guidelines (read policies relating to who can post, when, about what and so on) in place. A public-service organization has to be very mindful that there is a lot on the line, and many pros and cons when it is managing its reputation in the social media sphere.

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