- Contact Name: Constable Anne Longley, Social Media Officer
- Contact E-mail: email@example.com
- Date: 11/15/2011
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) is the eighth largest city in Canada and the second largest police force in British Columbia, with 1,327 sworn officers, 387 civilian employees, and a population of over 578,000.
VPD uses many different forms of social media to reach out to their community. They relaunched their Facebook page and began using Twitter in December 2010. Their Twitter launch strategy included a 24-hour tweet-a-thon. VPD now uses YouTube, Flickr, two blogs, and live streams media conferences.
The 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs was the first time VPD used Twitter during a large event. Their Twitter following grew from 8,712 to 10,246 as the playoffs progressed from game 1 to game 6. The department even held a contest, awarding the 10,000th follower with the opportunity to participate in a ride-along.
Throughout the playoffs, VPD kept their social media messaging light-hearted and consistent with other media-messaging. They also replied to questions and concerns through social media channels. Some of VPD tweets targeted the traditional media, encouraging them to spread information. They also tweeted post-game stats, such as “313 liquor pour outs, 26 tickets, 14 arrests – well behaved crowds,” and other tweets that brought awareness of appropriate conduct and VPD activity but in a more light-hearted way. The most talked about tweet “Drinking in public: $230. Peeing in public: $230. Watching a playoff game with thousands of new friends: priceless.” even made the National news. The public’s response to VPD’s use of Twitter during the playoffs was overwhelmingly positive.
During the Stanley Cup playoff games, Constable Longley used HootSuite to follow related streams and create searches. This was not intelligence gathering, but allowed Constable Longley to respond to questions and have a sense of situational awareness.
On June 15, 2011, the Canucks lost the final game of the playoffs and a riot ensued in the downtown core where the “Live Site” had been contained. With this turn of events, VPD continued to use social media. Though there was no written plan, VPD was very thoughtful and strategic about the tone and content of the messages sent through social media channels. Constable Longley explained she did not want to use the hashtag “#riot” and ceased using “#Canucks” because at this point, the activities had nothing to do with the hockey game. There was one tweet that VPD sent out that did use “#canucksriot” (the hashtag that was being used by others during the event), when the first police car was set on fire, and expressed profound disappointment. The tweet read, “So sad watching our #VPD cars on fire and how quickly people can turn from law abiding to law breaking. #canucksriot.”
While the riot was still raging people were asking where to send their videos and photos, and were told to hold onto the evidence until a process was established. In the days following the riot, VPD’s Twitter following grew to over 16,000 and their Facebook likes increased nearly 2,000 percent. More than 1,000 e-mails were received in the space of four days, many of which contained images, videos, or links to websites or Facebook pages. Never before had VPD experienced this volume of e-mail or ‘citizen journalists’ submitting potential evidence of riot suspects. Not only was the public submitting photos, but hundreds of supportive tweets and e-mails were received.
Within a week a joint task force called the Integrated Riot Investigation Team was established and within a few weeks a dedicated e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ‘riot page’ on the VPD website was established. Two months after the riot the riot2011.ca website was up and running and the community immediately began sending in tips and information about the suspected rioter photos, while others turned themselves in.
The volume of footage and images submitted was staggering, and it was estimated that it would have taken over two years to be processed by VPD alone. The Integrated Riot Investigation Team began working with LEVA – the “Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association” – to go over footage of the riot at the National Digital Multimedia Evidence Processing Lab at the University of Indianapolis to streamline the process.
In conclusion, Constable Longley stated the following four biggest surprises about the use of social media during the riot:
1. The immediacy and volume of photos/videos submitted by the public wanting to identify rioters
2. The “social justice” aspect of public shaming after the riot
3. The huge out-pouring of support in many ways for the VPD
4. The massive growth in social media followers
Constable Longley had some suggestions for other law enforcement agencies using social media, not just during a major event, but in general. She stressed that it is important to balance the personal tone with the fact that this is the official voice of the department and whoever is using social media on behalf of the department should be ‘media trained’. Also, when appropriate, don’t forget to say thank you, because it can go a long way in building partnerships with the community.