Boomer cops | Unplugging social media | Door-to-door policing
November 20, 2019 | View as webpage

If you are a consumer of social media, you have probably seen the “OK boomer” memes, videos and hashtags populating your feeds over the past few months. The phrase, which has been analyzed by The New York Times and popped up during a New Zealand parliamentary debate, is being used by Generation Z to call out the failings they see of the Baby Boomer generation.

While there have always been differences between the generations, there is no question that social media helps deepen the divide. In today’s Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults suggests we pause for a moment to value some old school policing practices over viral trends, while Booker Hodges shares how a 40-day social media fast enabled him to truly understand how the community he polices perceives law enforcement.

Is the “OK boomer” trend prompting discussions among the generations in your agency? Email 

Nancy Perry, PoliceOne Editor-in-Chief
What boomer cops know about connecting with communities
By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

I recently did a ride-along with a Tampa police officer in her mid-20s with a few years of experience under her belt. She was very professional, competent and respectful. She asked about my background and I told her I had worked in largely rural areas, “Kind of like Mayberry,” I joked. I could have said “Kind of like the planet Mars” and would have gotten the same questioning look from my young driver.

Thinking I had failed in my attempt at humility and humor I explained, “You know, Andy, Barney, Aunt Bea.” She could have replied with, “OK, boomer!” but at that point, we were interrupted by a man with a gun call so the conversation shifted, but I felt as though she should probably pull over at the next cemetery and just bury me.

The experience made me think about all the older guys (there weren’t any older women officers at the start of my career that I knew) who told me what a pup I was even through my 40s, that 25 years of marriage was just getting started (I’m on year 41 now and many of those wise-crackers are still paying for their second divorce), and that they had socks older than me (which I totally understand now – because I do).

During a visit to the National Law Enforcement Museum during Police Week this year I was a little stunned to see the tools I used to work with as artifacts on display. It seemed as though I should have been stuffed and propped up on exhibit among the antiques.

But what has really changed? I served with veteran cops who had to deal with paper driver licenses, walkie-talkies the size of a shoebox – if they were lucky enough to have that – and radar units that had to be set up on the roadside on a tripod. No one was carrying a pistol with 18 bullets in it. They also had tacit permission to conduct attitude adjustments in alleys, continue a pursuit until, by God, they caught you, and interrogate with intimidation. We’ve come a long way, baby. And if you recognize what cigarette commercial that was from (or remember when cigarette commercials were still allowed on TV), then you might be a boomer.

The current generation of cops on patrol have their own benefits and challenges. Obviously, technology cuts both ways. Social media, in particular, has been the vehicle for a lot of cop hate. In the tug of war for positive attention, police agencies and individual officers have turned to social media to counter the negativity with questionable success.

While these media platforms are an important way to engage with the public, they can not be the exclusive strategy. Some old school practices, like some of the warm socks at the bottom of my drawer, still have value. Here’s how we used to connect with communities before the advent of Twitter and Nextdoor:

Priority keeping

Sometimes we forget that the best public relations strategy is to be outstanding at what we do. That means doing solid police work that prevents and solves crime. No amount of Instagram posts capturing cops doing good things will survive failing to catch criminals doing bad things.

Old media

People still read their local papers, watch the local news and listen to their local radio station. Police departments should not abandon these traditional outlets when adopting new media strategies. These outlets can reach a demographic that social media may not, and with a depth and context that exceeds what social media posts can convey.

Maximizing positivity in contacts

Personal interactions are important to counteract the impersonal messages that show up in new media. A professional contact, an attempt to inject positive messages, taking time to listen and providing follow up will create individual narratives that can counteract impersonal critical media messages.

Although officers deal largely with people at a difficult time in their lives – whether getting a traffic citation, reporting being a crime victim, or involved in a dispute – we have the opportunity to inject empathy, listening and gratitude (thank you for cooperating, thank you for making a statement, thank you for your attention) into most encounters.

Get on your feet

The value of getting out of that patrol car can’t be overstated. Especially when an officer is equipped with business cards, junior police badges, 911 stickers or anything that can give a reason to interact with the public as eye-to-eye contact and small talk goes a long way to build trust.

The wave

Maybe it’s my rural upbringing but giving a subtle wave has remained a great connector to other motorists for me, and I always looked for opportunities to justify that little gesture while in a patrol car.

Sure, it’s great to get likes, views and smiling emojis, but it’s also great to get a handshake, a thank you and a wave with all the right fingers.

Additional resources:
Law Enforcement Interactions with Mentally Ill Persons

This white paper presents the results from a nationwide survey, compiling responses from 4,200 officers and leaders who shared their perspectives on the challenges of incidents involving persons with mental illness.

Download now
What I learned about policing from my social media fast
By Booker Hodges

Many in law enforcement, including myself, believe the media too often grossly mischaracterizes our profession. The news media makes money by reporting the extraordinary in a manner that makes it appear as if it were ordinary.

Social media is even worse in this regard. I started to find myself becoming depressed after reading social media posts and online comments after certain news stories. I have been in law enforcement for a while and live in the community I serve. This means I am always at community events with my family. I started to ask myself, "Am I crazy, or is what is portrayed in the media reality?" The sentiments expressed online toward law enforcement just did not match what I was experiencing in "real life." 

I decided to take a 40-day fast from social media including reading news media articles. I believe if every law enforcement officer, including administrators, did the same, it would help improve neighborhood relations.

Here are the three steps I took:

1. I went cold turkey and stopped using social media and checking media websites.

In my current role, not monitoring media isn't ideal but my mental health not being up to snuff is also not ideal. I figured if there was something in the media I needed to know about someone would let me know.

For the first few days, I felt a high level of anxiety. It was hard to keep myself from checking my phone but after four days my anxiety subsided. I found myself being more engaged in conversations with my family and paying attention to things I didn’t realize I had been neglecting.

I didn't realize it before starting the fast that I was addicted to social media and news websites. I found not looking at these sites allowed me to get my inner peace back.

2. I journaled about the neighborhood interactions I had during my social media and news fast.

Reading social media and news websites caused me to believe people in my state hated the police. During the fast, we had several officer-involved shootings that led to people protesting and posting negative things about law enforcement. I was expecting my neighborhood interactions to be contentious ‒ especially given my current position ‒ but my experience was the opposite. I found most people didn't even pay attention to what I thought they were paying attention to. I visited a large group of youth to discuss interactions with law enforcement and, during my discussion, I mentioned the recent highly publicized officer-involved shootings. Neither the teenagers or their teachers had any idea what I was talking about and had to get out their phones to look up the events I was referring to.

I experienced similar instances to this during my fast and it made me realize how much of a bubble I live in. Journaling more so than anything changed my mindset as it showed me how out of touch I was walking around thinking the majority of people felt a certain way about our profession when it couldn't be further from the truth.

3. I set aside time to spend with those who are close to me.

I actually called people on the phone instead of texting them. I found speaking with people helped me reconnect with my close friends in ways that texting or Facebook messenger does not.

Sitting down to break bread as opposed to clicking like on a Facebook post was far more enjoyable. I thought that being on social media allowed me to stay connected to those who are close to me but in reality, I found that not to be true.

Why you should unplug

Unplugging may not be easy, but everyone should try it. The media puts bait titles on stories for us to click on so they can charge more money for advertising. They know how to rile people up by publishing “us versus them” stories and we always fall for it. Let's stop allowing people to profit off community division.

Our neighbors support the police and that's the truth even in communities where the media portrays a lack of support. If we want to continue to improve our neighborhood relations we need to continue to connect with our neighbors face to face. Isn’t your peace worth more to you than a few likes on Facebook? 

Additional resources:
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2. Community-oriented policing improves police legitimacy: Researchers found that positive contact with police via door-to-door nonenforcement community policing visits substantially improved residents' attitudes toward police.

1. Using a community engagement officer to bridge the gap between the public and the police: Building trust between officers and the communities they serve doesn't happen without effort.
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