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P1 First Person: Instant communication with Nixle, Twitter, and Facebook

When trying to compare and contrast the pros and cons of these three tools, the room begins to spin, but this simple breakdown might help

Editor's Note: Capt. Mike Parker will be presenting at the Social Media Internet Law Enforcement (SMILE) Conference in Chicago from May 9-11, 2011, and the Leadership Summit of the California Peace Officers Assn. in San Diego, May 25-27, 2011.


Capt. Parker commands the LASD's Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau, which leads the agency's communications and marketing efforts. The bureau disseminates information and is responsible for the design and content of the LASD website, Nixle messaging and social media. Follow him on Facebook (MikeParkerLASD), Twitter (@MPLASD and @LASD_News), and “LASD –Headquarters Newsroom (SHB), Los Angeles County Sheriff" at https://local.nixle.com/register/.

Dave Lottman

Capt. By Mike Parker
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook are pretty darn famous these days. Yet when looking at them for official use by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, fame wasn’t the top priority. Include the Nixle Instant Communication system to the mix, and when trying to compare and contrast the features and pros and cons of the three of them, the room begins to spin.

All are free, sort of. Nixle (Municipal Wire, AKA Tier 1) is free for government to send and free for the public to receive. Yet so is social media. But social media has ads, while Nixle doesn’t. Most government entities have a lot of rules against ads, and have issues such as public disclosure laws and archiving with which they must comply. Nixle automatically archives online long term but not Twitter and Facebook.

With Twitter and Facebook, you get over half a billion worldwide subscribers, while Nixle is only available in the U.S., has half a million subscribers, and is growing steadily.

To help gauge who is using what, how, and who to contact, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Center for Social Media offers a Directory of thousands of law enforcement agencies that use the many forms of social media and instant communications, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Nixle verifies law enforcement (and all) senders via agency photo identification before allowing anyone to claim they are who they say they are, so it takes a day or two to get started sending. Meanwhile, you can start a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter in just a few minutes, which also means it is full of pretenders successfully passing themselves off as celebrities and even police agencies.

Nixle communicates only one way and thus is not social media, while Twitter and Facebook allow for two-way dialogue. For some people, the choice between these is obvious, whatever choice that may be. Law enforcement management for example, often views the greatest thing about social media as the ability to hear directly and openly from the public. Meanwhile, management often perceives the biggest challenge of social media as getting to hear directly and openly from the public.

We developed eye strain and headaches trying to figure out the difference between the three, as we worked to form our department strategy. In order to help clear things up, we created a three-column Instant Communications Comparison chart, but not to identify the pros and cons. More so, it was made to compare and contrast features of each so that an informed decision could be made for our agency, as well as so other agencies could save some time on research.

We did launch the use of Nixle in mid-2010 as the first official Instant Communications (4-1-1) information system of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and have rapidly acquired 30-50,000 combined subscribers to the dozens of LASD stations and Headquarters Newsroom. In fact, with over 29,000 subscribers, the “LASD –Headquarters Newsroom (SHB), Los Angeles County Sheriff” has the highest number of Nixle subscribers in the nation.

As we expand Nixle’s powerful positives for the LASD and partnering police agencies, we are also exploring how social media fits into the communications equation and Marketing strategy for the second largest policing agency in the United States. One thing is for certain when you see the number of subscribers; the public trusts us and wants to hear from us.

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