- Contact Name: Corporal Frank Domizio
- Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Date: 2/6/2013
What makes for a “social media arrest”? Philadelphia police on content, data analysis, and media
In late October 2012, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) announced a milestone: the agency had made its 100th arrest based on information it had posted to its social media accounts. Since then, it has made 12 more, and expects the number to continue to rise.
The agency first began to use social media in February 2011, using three primary outposts—Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube—in addition to its WordPress-based blog, which is attached to its website. YouTube provides the foundation for the effort, which focuses on video of crimes in progress to attract tips. Twitter, Facebook, the blog, and traditional press releases then serve as distribution channels.
This served as a transition from previous channels, which included press conferences, a CD-ROM, and reporters calling the agency. Now, the press release is the link—and it’s driving more tips and more arrests, even as it saves time and money in media outreach.
Video: the centerpiece of PPD’s content infrastructure
While the department has used social tips to make arrests for everything from homicide to theft of artificial flowers, many of the arrests have been for armed robberies of convenience stores.
More than 3,000 videos have been recovered in all—thanks in large part to the agency’s Digital Image Video Response Team (DIVRT), a group of about 50 detectives trained by special agents from the FBI’s Philadelphia field office to recover surveillance video.
“There’s a real art in digital video recovery because of all the different digital video recorders on the market,” says Captain Ray Evers, formerly commander of the PPD’s Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs. This can also make recovery time-intensive: detectives don’t just work with one video, but often from several of them that can show suspects’ path of travel.
“Detectives spread out around a crime scene and look for cameras,” says Corporal Frank Domizio, PPD’s social media manager. “One might show a grainy face, but another might have a good shot of a vehicle. SafeCam videos, videos from stores, residences, construction sites—we put it all together.”
The killing of off-duty Officer Moses Walker was solved this way, as have robberies and an attempted child abduction. In the latter case, video of the suspect was posted in the evening between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.; by midnight, the suspect turned himself in.
Detectives received the training in 2011, originally because sending video to FBI analysts in Quantico was too time- and cost-prohibitive. (A single video can take 40 minutes to process.)
Since then, however, the recovered videos have become an important source of content for the agency’s social media efforts. “We couldn’t have one without the other,” says Evers.
Occasionally, police post video uploaded from smartphones to YouTube or sites such as World Star Hip Hop. And there are other sources of video content besides surveillance: public service announcements, community member profiles, and positive stories.
Posting for the public
Learning social media, and how to put information out on it, was a process, just as learning how to receive the information was a process for the Philadelphia public. Domizio says his process involved a lot of trial and error: what time to post and what information to post in particular. “We didn’t used to post pictures with our links,” he says, “but when we started doing that, our audience increased exponentially.” He says this is because people can relate to the videos.
The attempted child abduction is a good example. Before releasing the video, the media relations unit first sent a words-only announcement that a video was forthcoming. “Twenty-two thousand people viewed that post even before we posted the actual video,” says Domizio. “The guy turned himself in because he felt he had nowhere else to go.”
Domizio says the agency’s policy is to discourage tipsters from using the same channels to report tips that they view them on. “We have a central repository for all tips coming in via text message, phone call, e-mail, and our iWatch mobile app,” he explains. “They all go to the same place, our 24/7 real time crime center, whereas a message that comes from Facebook just comes to me as Community Manager.”
To encourage future tipping, Domizio thanks the individual for the information, says he will forward the tip, and refers the individual to the correct channel for future reference. “We don’t want to not take their tip,” says Domizio, “but if I’m not at my computer when it comes in, I can’t respond to it, which is a real concern if it’s time sensitive.”
Balancing new with traditional media
Evers also learned to post video at the time of day when local media are looking for stories. “Philadelphia is the #4 media market in the United States, which means a story doesn’t last longer than 24 hours—so if a viewer misses the 6 o’clock news, that’s one less person seeing your story about a crime you want solved,” he explains. “Whereas, posting it on more than one channel, so that person can choose when to see it and via what medium, that increases the likelihood of solving the crime.”
Indeed, the 100 arrests police have made based on their video posts resulted in a 33.5 percent clearance rate. “We received 6500 tips so far this year. Without engaging the public through social media that number would undoubtedly be lower,” Domizio says.
Evers says social media was integral to the last push to clear the city’s Dilworth Plaza of Occupy Wall Street protesters so that planned construction could begin on the plaza. “We embedded a reporter with Commissioner Ramsey, which gave our efforts lots of credibility because the reports were coming from a neutral source,” Evers explains.
It was another example of combining traditional with new media, as the reporter lent an “old school” source of information while Evers and the rest of his team used social media for tactical, step-by-step information transmission. “We actually compete with news media because we’re going directly to consumers, without need for the media middleman,” Evers says. And yet, as the Dilworth operation showed, traditional media are still necessary.
The result: no incidents of police brutality were reported or recorded, as had been the case in other cities. “These days everyone has a camera, and if something had happened, it would’ve come out,” says Domizio.
Domizio says the driving force behind PPD’s social media use was Commissioner Charles Ramsey, whose 40 years of policing taught him the importance of community engagement—and how the new social media tools could promote it.
“If executives don’t buy into this, it won’t work,” Domizio says. “But the commissioner realized that one billion people are on Facebook, that they’re spending regular time online. So instead of being engaged by a foot beat officer, that conversation occurs online, and it spreads far beyond the foot beat’s five-block radius.”
Even so, Ramsey has never advocated for social media as a replacement for hand-to-hand, face-to-face communication. “He sees it as another layer, a supplement to traditional community policing,” says Domizio.
A plan is in the works to get Commissioner Ramsey and his deputies on a live Twitter chat with its own hashtag. Over the long term, the agency wants to incorporate Google+ Hangouts, allowing Ramsey to talk live (albeit moderated) with community members from around the city.
In addition, the media relations bureau will be adding personnel—not centrally, but from around the city. “We have one sergeant, one detective, one inspector, two staff inspectors, three captains, and five patrol officers,” says Domizio, “and we’re planning to add more.”
After that, he adds, communication will depend on what new social networks arise and gain popularity, or even how people use old ones. For example, Domizio says, 25-30 percent of the agency’s blog traffic comes from the news sharing site Reddit. “We don’t even post there,” he points out.
Much of what Domizio and his team have done is to fit their existing work to social media, rather than create content to fit their social presence, a concept espoused by Wil Reynolds with Seer Interactive. “Our content marketing is based on what people expect from their police department and how we can provide it,” says Domizio. This information comes from tools like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights.