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Extending the long arm of the law to embrace social media

Are police forces ready to innovate with social media to support community policing and fight crime?


Social media is part of our world and, some would argue, essential to our personal and professional lives. Private sector organizations would certainly agree—in recent years, few communications or customer engagement campaigns are complete without a social media component. The public sector response has been more muted. Yet increased demand from citizens for governments to share and collate information means the pressure is on to embrace social media, particularly in the context of public safety and policing.

While public sector organizations have been less inclined to adopt new technologies in their operations, they are no strangers to the benefits. With the advent of advanced analytics and identification being eased by digital technologies such as face recognition, the science of solving crimes has reached new levels of sophistication and accuracy through high-tech means. But what if the police could stop perpetrators in their tracks before they commit a crime?

Many police forces and public safety agencies are realizing that social media is not simply online dialogue but a means to facilitate rapid response and acquire better data. From intelligence capture using new analytic technologies to uncover communications patterns and analyze sentiment, to wide-scale word of mouth channels to share crime prevention or safety advice, build trust and connect with the public, social media can help forge closer links with citizens and communities.


Recognizing the benefits of social media is one thing; using it creatively so that it acts as a true ally to the police in combatting crime, protecting citizens and improving public order, is another. Three actions should be taken by the police when applying social media to augment existing policing operations:

  • Develop a social media strategy

  • Build the infrastructure

  • Monitor, review and improve

Whether police forces use social media to communicate with the public, offer advice and assistance or monitor criminal activity, they now have a unique opportunity to use social media to improve policing outcomes, reduce costs and work more effectively and efficiently.

Just as the invention of the telegraph and telephone effectively shrank distance, today’s technologies are compressing police reaction times, setting the stage for social media to change policing as we have come to know it. With improved communication and engagement, the law will be able to not only extend its long arm, but also use it to embrace social media to better protect citizens and society.

For more information, please contact James Slessor at