Social media has become ubiquitous–everyone from the Pope to your second grade English teacher has a following. The one group that’s lagging behind? Law enforcement.

That’s not to say that police aren’t investing in technology–quite the opposite, in fact.

Mark Forman is the former Federal CIO and current ‎global head for the Public Sector at ‎Unisys.

“Law enforcement organizations invest pretty heavily in technology, but it’s not clear when that technology actually improves public safety,” Mark Forman, former Federal CIO and current ‎global head for the Public Sector at ‎Unisys, told MeriTalk State & Local.

A January report from Unisys found that more than 1,500 urbanites from ages 18 to 74 in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia want more online interaction with law enforcement.

Tweets Aren’t Enough

Now, police departments might think that having a Facebook page is enough. But that’s simply not the case.

“What we got out of the survey was police need to move to a two-way communication process that allows for things such as SMS texting and social media messages to be submitted into Command and Control–what we know as 911,” Forman said.

First off, posting on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t cut it. Some police agencies are using social media to make announcements or post wanted posters. However, 58 percent of respondents feel it should be a lot easier for people to contact the police through digital media. The name of the game for all police agencies is reducing and solving crimes. And social media could really lend a helping hand, especially considering that half of respondents would be more willing to report crime if they could do so via social media.

“It’s pretty clear that citizens view themselves as walking around with computers in their hands and if they see something going on in their neighborhood, they want to have immediate interaction with police,” Forman explained.

Citizen CSI

Not only do those smart phones give citizens the ability to contact the police immediately, they also turn the average citizen into a CSI pro. As Forman alluded to, citizens now feel capable of capturing evidence of crimes in progress, whether it’s a video, text message, or a photo.

The report found that citizens are chomping at the bit to share evidence online. In fact, 79 percent of respondents would submit image-based evidence online. Video-based clocked in at 71 percent, and SMS text evidence at 65 percent. Interestingly, audio-based evidence was the least popular. The results were perhaps a nod to the somewhat complicated laws surrounding recording phone conversations–which vary from state to state. Even so, 52 percent of respondents are willing to share it online.

NextGen Neighborhood Watch

Forman explained that, essentially, citizens want to help the police keep their community safe.

“For many years, communities had a neighborhood watch that was a form of community policing. Well, in the digital environment, the whole concept of neighborhood watch has morphed. Nowadays everybody should be able to easily send images and evidence to the police. It’s time for police to take the next step and start engaging with a digital neighborhood watch.”

It’s time for police to upgrade their social media game, so citizens can help keep their neighborhoods safe.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs