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A whopping 92 percent of citizens want to help out local law enforcement -- they just wish the police would reach out through social media to give them the chance.
A recent Accenture survey of 1,298 respondents from the U.S., Canada, Germany, and other countries examined changing social conditions and the need for police work to change with it. Ger Daly, head of Accenture’s Defense & Public Safety business, revealed the results at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in California.
“We are seeing a huge wave of change from the Nordic countries and the Middle East to the USA and Canada … in how policing is done,” he said. “Social media is changing so rapidly within itself and for government.
The Seattle Police Department is a great example: In September, it launched “Tweets-by-beat,” giving citizens the chance to pick a specific local neighborhood’s police beat and receive updates in real time on the activity there -- from emergencies and crimes committed to random callouts. Domestic violence and sex crimes have been excluded.
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But nationwide, the survey was clear: The majority of citizens want to see police forces use more digital channels to communicate.
Indeed, nearly 88 percent across the six surveyed countries believe the police only update them minimally -- and they’d like more information, please.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed in the U.S. indicated they would like police to use digital channels to overcome this communication gap, but only 27 percent believe their local police do so. And 27 percent was still the highest for the nations surveyed.
The U.S. had the highest rate of respondents who felt “well informed” of local police activities -- a meager 21 percent.
More than three quarters of those surveyed believe social media in particular would be an effective tool for citizens to report crime, help generate suspect leads and support their local police investigations.
Americans also showed the highest preference for the police making greater use of smartphone and mobile applications to communicate with citizens.
Those surveyed in the U.S. also expressed preferences for specific social media platforms: 81 percent said they would most likely use Facebook to interact with police and 24 percent said Twitter.
According to the survey, across the six countries there was a consistent perception police continue to use traditional media channels -- predominantly newspapers, followed by radio and television news -- as their primary communication method.
When it comes to communicating with the cops, however, the public thinks differently.
In the U.S. a majority of respondents still prefer to report a crime over the phone or in person to a police officer. And the option to remain anonymous while providing information also continues to be important.
In the past, calls to police tip lines remained anonymous; perhaps it’s time for law enforcement to consider an online method that ensures anonymity as well.
A digital presence complements, but by no means replaces, the importance of policing efforts, the study also found.
Police visibility on the streets remains vital to citizens' confidence in their law enforcement, with more than half of surveyed Americans saying “seeing police on the street” instills confidence in local policing. Digital channels could be leveraged to free up police officers to get out onto the streets.
By increasing the number of communication channels, police can also obtain helpful intelligence for crime prevention and prosecution.
In Canada, when a riot broke out around a soccer match this summer, citizens documented the perpetrators on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
Robert Gorcak created a Facebook page titled “Vancouver Riot Pics: Post Your Photos,” just after the game. His page has received more than 90,000 likes and hundreds of photos documenting fires, looting and destruction of property.
Some perpetrators couldn’t resist posting self-admiring comments about photos in which they are featured; citizens took screen captures of this to pass to the police.
Digital channels could lower the cost of communication and free up officers for policing. It’s up to local stations to get on board.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.