We all know the benefits of social media and its ability to bring people together, advertise a product, share information and let even the smallest voice be heard by the masses.  What about a crime solving application? How can policing agencies utilize these social media tools and its untapped potential to their benefit.  Could social media be the best detective you’ve never had? Could it be the ultimate superhero, crime solving and maybe even crime preventing machine?

Policing agencies have become very active online with the use of Facebook and Twitter mostly to promote an open and friendly dialogue with their communities.  The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) specifically has constructed a very informative and user-friendly website in addition to its Ottawa Police app.  These tools give its citizens an incredible amount of access to information regarding issues, awareness campaigns, crime trends and even up to the minute traffic disruptions.

Imagine if every member of the community with a smart phone followed OPS on Twitter and was able to receive broadcasts from the police service.  You could be made aware of a trend in your neighborhood regarding break-ins, bike thefts or thefts from vehicles.  You could help put an end to a crime trend in your neighborhood by being warned or reminded to lock your doors and remove all valuables from plain view.  Whenever an individual is wanted by police, his or her photograph could be sent out over social media for its citizens to be on the look out.  A perfect example of this was the case of Ian Bush, a man who viciously attacked a 101 yr old WWII veteran during a home invasion.  Police used social media to broadcast Bush’s photographs in search of anyone that could identify him.  This proved to be successful as Bush was quickly identified, arrested and later charged with an almost 10 yr old triple homicide.

Crime stoppers, neighborhood watch and other community organizations have been in existence for quite some time and have proven to be valuable.  With the level of connectivity that social media offers, we should be able to seamlessly join forces to make these programs much more effective.  As a police officer and a citizen of my community I am always diligent of what is taking place within my neighborhood as are my neighbors.  I can think of no better way to help keep the streets safe for everyone, after all the police are nothing without the support of their community.




Is social media turning our kids into criminals?

With the age of social media impacting our world in so many different ways, our youth are now being exposed to new risks and dangers we never had to deal with.  Today’s parents are often left scrambling to keep up not just for their own knowledge base but to keep pace with their children.  Not only are they struggling to keep an eye out for potential dangers their children may be exposed to but they have to be aware of the potential wrongdoing their children may participate in online.  Your child may be an online criminal and you wouldn’t even know it, until it’s too late.

As parents we need to face the reality that children of today have access to one another via social media 24/7.  They cannot escape that bully or public ridicule when they return to the privacy of their own home if they are “online”.  A bully can now follow you home via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or any number of social media platforms.

Children of today are also sharing photographs of themselves due to peer pressure or poor judgement which, unbeknownst to them is a crime.  The sharing of partly nude or nude photos of anyone under the age of 18 can be constituted as child pornography.  With the immense social pressure to sext or share sexy photos, a lot of youth feel the need to share racy photographs of themselves to conform to the social norms of today.  A private photo shared with one person can then be used to shame or ridicule you on unimaginably personal levels, unfortunately leading to suicide in a few cases.

The most recent and alarming trend is youth filming criminal acts and then posting or sharing them online.  Several high school and college (U.S.) sports teams have been the source of some major scandals recently.  Videos depicting sexual assaults, rapes and inappropriate criminal behavior have surfaced implicating not only the assailants but those who shared the videos and were thus aware of the crimes committed.  Although confined to specific groups, such as sports teams in this case, these are very real dangers facing the youth of today.  A “funny” video shared innocently could become a key piece of evidence in a criminal trial with all those involved in sharing and creating the video implicated criminally.

Many people believe that the youth of today are no different from the youth of previous generations.  The actions of our youth have not changed but our awareness of these acts via social media has. Do you believe that social media is simply a conduit that has made us more aware or a vice that enables and even encourages our youth to misbehave?

Fake soldier – A national shaming

An ashamed Frank Gervais, dubbed the “fake soldier”, leaving Ottawa courthouse after guilty plea

I was a proud member of the Canadian Forces for over 13 years.  I served primarily as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves and deployed twice overseas to Bosnia and the Middle East.  Unfortunately I was injured a few days before I was to deployed into Afghanistan, something my parents were very happy about, but an event that hurt me deeply.  I WANTED to go to Afghanistan, I wanted to serve my country and do my part to help make the world a better place.  The thought of wanting to voluntarily enter a war zone may seem strange to others but those of us that served and those that continue to serve understand exactly where I am coming from.  I earned my military service medals and decorations, and therefore wear them with immense pride.  This is why, the Frank Gervais story is so compelling yet disturbing to me.

In 2004  I got the chance to visit the UK and Europe during which I took a ferry from Dover, England to Calais, France.  I got the chance to see first hand some of the landing sites our allied forces took on D-Day, a surreal experience that sent a shiver down my spine.  The thought of having to fight on some of the terrain I saw, almost 60 years later mind you, and undoubtedly much less daunting, was terrifying.  This visit strengthened my resolve and commitment to the Canadian Forces.

Gervais being interviewed on Remembrance Day

On October 20, 2014 Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was struck and killed with a motor vehicle driven by Martin Couture-Rouleau.  Two days later on October 22, 2014, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was fatally shot and killed while standing guard on the Cenotaph in Ottawa by lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.  Fast forward to Remembrance Day November 11, 2014 where mere meters from the scene of a national tragedy, Frank Gervais was disgracefully committing another one.  Gervais shamefully posed as a Canadian military veteran, donning a uniform, taking part in a brief interview with media and even posing for photographs.

Within days, the web was alive with images of Gervais, questioning his validity as a soldier.  Facebook was alive with chatter from military members asking the question, “who is Frank Gervais?” and “does anybody know him?”.  The medals and decorations worn by Gervais were so distinctive and rare that he should have been known to many.  One member posted a photo analysis of Gervais, indicating all the “red flags” with his personal appearance, manner of dress, uniform, medals and decorations.  How could a veteran with his supposed level of experience make such obvious errors with his dress?!

This incident gave birth to a Twitter account @SgtFrankGervais which boasts over 200 tweets, and 32 followers all bashing or poking fun at Gervais.  This to me is a bit much but just gives you an idea of how easy it is ruin your life in the age of social media.  Social media “outed” Gervais and to this day continues to judge him, even after pleading guilty to this crimes.

There are mixed feelings both from the military and non-military worlds regarding what should happen to Gervais.  Jail time is no longer an option as the Crown Attorney has dropped two counts of impersonating  a public officer.  Gervais instead plead guilty to unlawful use of military uniform/decorations which carries a fine as its maximum penalty.  Some would argue the shame he and his family have suffered as a result of his actions is more than enough.  It is rumored that Gervais was also fired from his job as a result of his actions, a move some believe to be unwarranted.

Do you think Gervais deserved to lose his job?

Do you think he should be punished more severely?

How do you feel about what he did in general? Big deal or not a big deal?


Policing in the age of social media – community

In the policing world, very few if any are more famous than Sir Robert Peel.  To quote this great man and one if his 9 principles, principle number seven is as follows: “To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

This means that as a police service we need more than ever to be connected with our communities.  What better way but through social media?  The Ottawa Police chief, Charles Bordeleau has a Twitter account (@ChiefBordeleau) where he can be contacted directly by any member of the public.  That is unheard of! How many companies or organizations have ever given you direct access to their highest ranking official with the click of a button?  Through Twitter, the citizens of Ottawa can get an insight into what their chief of police is up to on a daily basis rather than speculate.  This also serves as a way for chief Bordeleau to show his support for his community by sending out messages to various community members and groups.

When I was much younger I used to deliver the Ottawa Citizen door to door each and every day.  The number of subscribers steadily declined over the years and now I can’t say that I know of anyone that gets a newspaper delivered to their doorstep.  The creation of social media outlets such as Twitter have enabled us to follow news agencies with the click of a button.  Now imagine if we could just as easily provide the news ourselves, and thus become our own news agency?  That is in essence what Twitter has provided to the Ottawa Police Service.  Each and every member of the community can bring forth their concerns or issues with a tweet or be advised of an incident or issue within their community.

In addition to this, there is the  Ottawa Police app (only available for IPhone or IPad at this time) which offers a wide variety of services.  You can submit tips, report a crime or look at an interactive crime map.  There are tools to help with crime prevention, avoid traffic disruptions, find a police station or read the latest news.  Any citizen can have instant access/interaction with its police service with the use of a smart phone.

Anyone seeking information regarding employment within the police service as either civilian (@ottawapolicehr) or sworn (@opsrecruiting) can be advised of any new job postings, information sessions or job fairs.

I would like to end this blog with a few questions;

1) How many of you have ever witnessed a crime or criminal act but did not report it whether due to fear, distrust or some other factor?

2)How many of you would be more likely to report a crime or criminal act if you could do so anonymously using an application like the Ottawa Police app I mentioned earlier?

Policing in the age of social media – Survival and Reputation

As a recruit, I was taught that in order to survive a career in policing there were three main categories you had  to be prepared to deal with: physical, emotional and legal.  After spending almost 13 yrs in the Canadian Forces, I thought to myself, “how difficult could this possibly be?”.  I was going to be working in a city I knew quite well, for a service that had a stellar reputation, and was quite confident that my training plus military experience would easily carry me through any situation.  Enter social media, the game changer!

Stationed downtown at the central station, I got to work in the heart of the city which I must say is a pretty sweet gig.  You get the traffic congestion of the working class influx and mass exodus during the week, while the weekend brings out the party goers by the thousands to the bustling Byward market.  It offered an excellent variety of calls and provided me with a tremendous amount f experience right off the bat.  Now what does all of this have to do with social media you ask?  Imagine doing your job in your office.  Now take that office and make it completely visible to everyone.  Now give everyone a smart phone and a desire to critique everything you do.

Don’t get me wrong I have noting to hide but here’s a prime example of what I’m talking about.  Two officers having a coffee break, park their cars in a location where they can deploy from easily and without disrupting traffic, evoke this response from a citizen.  Is this really what I have to look forward to for the next 2o years??

As an officer, I am expected to be honest, professional, respectful, and accountable not only to myself but to my service, coworkers and above all else my community.  That being said, I am not a robot but a human being with feelings just like everyone else.  So far I have survived the legal and physical aspects of the job but there are days when the emotional side is quite challenging.  I faced one such challenge a year ago when an article was written about me in the paper.  Although  I was not named in the article, I knew it was about me and the sting of embarrassment I felt from being portrayed as this bully made me sick to my stomach.  In my case social media came to the rescue as several readers posted comments via Facebook, standing up for me instead of believing  the slander written.

The use of social media to “police the police” is at times founded but if you do a YouTube search with the keywords “police brutality“, you will find countless videos with no supporting data.  As a law enforcement agency or employee these outlets can be quite damaging when all you see is video footage of an incident without understanding the parameters.  In Ottawa, Stacy Bonds was just such an incident and the service is still feeling the public backlash years later.  I’m in no way advocating any of the violence portrayed in the videos but I do have a better understanding than most of what I see.

Social media has changed the way law enforcement agencies operate which I consider overall to be a good thing but I must say from a frontline officer’s perspective, it can also make your job much more difficult.


Policing in the age of social media

Selfie taken as part of “I can MANifest change” campaign


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.