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Tap the power of social media to drive better policing outcomes

Public safety organizations can use social media as a new ally in combating crime and protecting citizens.

Overview

In August 2011 alone, riots erupted in London after Facebook and Twitter messages fueled youth to gather for a protest. The San Francisco regional train system BART was struck by multiple protestors using text messages to coordinate attacks aimed at disrupting train service at peak travel times. A flash mob, orchestrated via social media, gathered to collectively rob a Maryland 7-Eleven.

It’s clear that criminals are using social media as a tool to help them carry out crime and disorder. Police need to become just as savvy too, both in reactive and predictive responses to criminal situations. Public safety organizations can use social media as a new ally in combating crime and protecting citizens.

Background

High-tech approach, high-yield benefits

There are a number of ways in which organizations can use social media, and the uses are expanding just as fast as the technologies themselves. Public safety agencies can also capture the power of social media to move toward high performance in policing. Here are just some of the ways how:

Intelligence capture – When individuals make threats or articulate criminal activity, who is listening? It is nearly impossible for police professionals to track every interaction that occurs on social media forums. Social media analytics can pore through vast amounts of social media data to uncover patterns and analyze sentiment. By capturing open source intelligence through analytics, agencies can more adeptly discover trends and monitor threats as they grow in significance.

Proactive, predictive policing – The best way to fight crime is to prevent it. By identifying emerging trends or issues in real time, police forces can deploy staff on the spot to mitigate crises or alert citizens of pending danger. The rapid response enabled through social media can help police forces improve outcomes and reduce crime. Furthermore they can cut costs by being more efficient and productive.

Reactive policing – Just as social media leaves a “breadcrumb” trail to identify looming criminal behavior, it also leaves a trail of evidence after a crime has been committed. Police can identify which social media accounts were used to identify a target and a time, and check which users forwarded, “retweeted” or acknowledged the information. In cases when photos were taken at the actual crime scene, police can disseminate these images via a digital “wanted” poster to engage the public in identifying the perpetrators(s).

Public outreach and connecting with the community – Social media enables word of mouth at scale. It’s a new channel by which to share prevention advice, build trust and connect with the youth market and people who may otherwise be difficult to reach. Public safety organizations can also gather insights about negative sentiments that are developing, and quickly engage the public to reverse any adverse publicity or opinions.

Analysis

Steps to social media policing

By leveraging Web technologies, digital social media enables police to improve outcomes, reduce costs and work more efficiently and effectively. By following these steps, public safety organizations can quickly begin to capture the benefits of social media:

1. Develop the strategy – For police forces entering this new territory, it’s important to outline a social media plan that identifies how the medium will be used. Which social media outlets will you track—Twitter, Facebook, MySpace? Which units will be trained how to use these sites? What practices should be set in place for evidence purposes, for example, taking a screenshot of a page where a criminal comment is made?

2. Build the infrastructure – Work from what you already have in place. For example, many police forces are already using social media to track sexual predators online. Identify the people, process and technology needed to support strategy. This would most likely include the ability to analyze trends in the unstructured text of social media sites and surface those trends through existing reporting and even dispatch systems.

3. Maximize the data – The right infrastructure and the right analytical tools will yield information at lightning speed. The key is to pull unstructured data and look for trends and patterns within that information. By harnessing the power of this data, your organization’s IT investment can pay for itself.

As police forces take these steps, it is critical to look at social media as an extension of current information, not an island. The information and insights gathered from social media should be integrated into current operational, investigative and intelligence systems so that, ultimately, there is one single view of the customer. This “golden record” allows for better collaboration and information sharing across the enterprise.

Recommendations

Tools to add to the arsenal

Accenture has developed, and is using in the commercial sector, tools that enable better capture and analysis of information generated through social media outlets.

Accenture’s Voice of the Customer tool collects and distills insight generated from explicit feedback, across all listening posts. Analytics deliver deep insight into what customers think and feel about their needs, attitudes and preferences, as well as about an organization’s products, services and brand. Such a tool could be adapted for policing purposes to provide early warning of groups or individuals gathering to do harm.

Text analytics and natural language processing combine the power of the unstructured content that is coming from social media sources with structured content from third party sources, customer research and/or customer service calls and synchronize the data into a single engine that yields analytics from a holistic viewpoint.

Accenture also offers a social media strategy toolkit that guides organizations through a capabilities assessment, development of an organization and governance model, and strategy.

Policing entities all over the world can take advantage of such tools to power more informed policing.