One of the most difficult jobs is changing the communication culture of an organization, especially a police department. There is a natural resistance not only over legal barriers, but the ‘vision’ of what policing and community engagement actually means.
Update: analytics have been crunched regarding the #VicPDHelps Twitter hashtag for Canada Day – 123 tweets generated 314,345 impressions, reaching an audience of 75,099 followers within the past 24 hours via @Org9. Total network reach, which includes secondary level ie: ‘friends of friends’ is an estimated reach of 105 000. Considering the population of Greater Victoria is around 376 000 (source CRD), this illustrates the potential of social media to engage the region.
CHEK News Video
It is so refreshing to witness the Victoria BC Police Department experiment with Twitter on Canada Day. Creating a Hashtag – #VicPDhelps – as a non-911 means for people to note problems or concerns while tens of thousands gathered in the downtown core to celebrate the national holiday.
Mike Russell, the Victoria Police officer behind the Twitter handle @VicPDCanada, along with the department’s communication team, has moved online engagement from a staid press release broadcast, to putting a personality into the ‘handle’, making real connections, and proving that taking the time for online conversations can have real benefits.
Mike has reached out to the community. He has presented at the largest conference in North America dedicated to social media, Social Media Camp, and did a full hour on #YYJchat taking questions from the Greater Victoria online ‘crowd’.
On Canada Day, with an expected record number of over 50 000 people flooding into the downtown Victoria and Inner Harbour area to watch concerts and the fireworks, police communication changes. Crowd sourcing issues, nipping problems in the bud before they get out of control seems elemental, but can only happen if the community trusts the people behind both the badge, and hashtag.
In this case, it seems to have worked. The night is not over, but up to midnight, it is quite obvious the local community was well aware of the Victoria Police Twitter initiative, trusted it, and was willing to offer leads and assistance.
The problem for Victoria Police now is the future. Once a hashtag permeates a community, it can take on a life of its own. Using #VicPDhelps simply for special events, during set hours, might not be possible. Integrating Twitter, and other social media platforms, directly into 911 call centres and non-emergency, but reactive, communications, will be a challenge.
The following is an edited Storify of Canada Day using posts from @VicPDCanada #VicPDHelps #YYJCanadaDay and #YYJ
Note: the hashtag #VicPDhelps monitoring time was 4pm July 1st to 2am July 2nd. The Storify has posts to midnight July 1st