Flashing the Mob With Digital Community Officers

By Ken Morris, JD

Philadelphia, London, Cairo and more recently the 7-Eleven incident in Germantown, MD are examples of centuries old behavior – people gathering in groups and behaving badly. Police in Germantown initially believed the 7-Eleven flash mob robbery was planned using social media. Post interviews with the suspects, police discovered that the teens planned the raid on the convenience store while on a bus ride from a county fair. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v8JATCLC1Q]

Governmental response has ranged from shutting down communication networks as in the blocking of cellular traffic on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (a likely constitutional infringement on speech) to active monitoring of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The latter approach is an important effort but insufficient to quell the planning of illicit activity. We recommend combining the monitoring of social networks by becoming part of the network – a concept central to community policing.

Community policing is best defined as the system of allocating police officers to particular areas so that they become familiar with the local inhabitants. Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and now Google+ are merely digital forms of analog communities.

We acknowledge that police departments are operating in environments of fewer resources. The efficiency and scalability of social networks provide a unique leveraged opportunity to engage those communities with only a modest investment. Monitoring tools are readily available. Mobile platforms allow for real-time notification and engagement by Digital Community Officers (DCO’s).

First things first.

  1. Determine your digital community policing objectives.
  2. Define measures of success.
  3. Assess which communities/networks are most valuable to engage.
  4. Become an active part of the digital community.
  5. Determine appropriate responses to less than helpful activity.
  6. Actively publicize the presence of your DCO’s.
  7. Consistently evaluate progress.

“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”
– Robert Kennedy

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