IACP Quick Take: What happens when police incidents go viral?

Getting facts out ahead of the media can save time, the integrity of your agency, and the reputation of your officers


Here’s a quick summary of the education session “When events go viral” by Edward Flynn, Lauri Stevens, Peter Sloly, and  Mike Parker at IACP 2014 in Orlando, Fla:

Quick Summary:
A panel of four law enforcement officials and social media experts shared events within their communities involving law enforcement that went viral to prove how easy it is for the smallest incident to get out of hand, get misinterpreted, and damage the reputation of an officer or agency.

Memorable Quotes:
“You have an obligation to get out there with the facts.” – Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn addresses the audience at IACP in Orlando about how he backed one of his officers when a news story inaccurately accused him of wrongdoing. (PoliceOne Image)
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn addresses the audience at IACP in Orlando about how he backed one of his officers when a news story inaccurately accused him of wrongdoing. (PoliceOne Image)

“Don’t plan to be viral. Plan to be awesome” - Toronto Deputy Chief Peter Sloly

“The potential always exists for an event that can put your agency in the crosshairs, but if you don’t have a social media account, your image will just be bitten without your knowledge.” – L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Captain Mike Parker

“For every 99 good acts, all you need is one to mess up a reputation. We cannot play this game perfectly, we will make mistakes. What you can do is try to make the most of out of the 99.” – Chief sloly

3 Key Takeaways:

  1. Milwaukee Chief Edward Flynn decided to conduct his own press conference to straighten out a story after a local news affiliate misconstrued a story of an officer who went out of his way to do good and managed to tarnish his reputation. The news station eventually made a public apology for the inaccurate reporting. 
  2. Encouraging your officers to be active on social media can help build a positive and trustworthy relationship with the community and can help get the daily positive police stories recognized and shared.
  3. There is very little deciding on what does and doesn’t go viral. All you can do is put your best work out there every day and remember that in today’s world, everything is on camera.

Other Observations:
Social media has become a key resource for law enforcement to stay on top of crime, promote positive news, establish positive relationships with the community, and remain aware of what is happening and when. Agencies who don’t actively use social media are putting themselves at a disadvantage.

Make sure your security settings align with how secure you are with personal information on the street. If you wouldn’t tell a stranger information about your address or your family, then that information shouldn’t be readily available on your social media profiles, either.

For More Information:
Lauri Stevens of LAwS Communication has helped agencies develop and implement social media strategies and policies nationwide. Visit LAwS Communication and check out her columns about how to customize your safety settings.

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