Engaging citizens through social media – a local view

Social media represents both a challenge for public security planners and offers a great opportunity for law enforcement agencies in order to enhance the service that they provide. Valencia Local Police (PLV) is aware of this and in developing  an active presence on social media has been grappling with new ways of working.

The duties of PLV are mainly focused on local issues: community policing, prevention of crime, traffic incidents and assisting other emergency services in various emergencies.. Social media has turned out to be a powerful tool for law enforcement agencies in order to communicate with local citizens. In this regard, PLV tries to connect online with the public through different platforms with an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. PLV´s communication department is the lead for our social media accounts. The main aim is to engage citizens in public security concerns – the more that citizens are aware of security issues the more secure a city becomes. It would be a mean to reduce antisocial behaviours, crime rates, traffic accidents and negative consequences in case of emergencies.

Each platform is different and it is important to use them each in different ways. Twitter allows to share real-time information through short messages so it is a perfect platform to spread information quickly and has become the main channel used by PLV. Unlike Twitter, Facebook fits more with a reflexive treatment of the information. Thus the information provided by Facebook is richer but it is not likely to reach the same audience or have the same immediate impact as Twitter. By contrast, Youtube is used to upload videos and Instagram emphasizes on posting images so it is preferably used when the message that is shared relies basically on an image.

And just as the information that each platform deals in differs, so they each target different audiences. Facebook and Twitter both tend to favour slightly older audiences whilst Instagram seems to connect with young people. PLV has adjusted its activity accordingly in order to grow its reach into he local community.

How can a local police department engage citizens in public security through all these platforms? PLV´s community manager, Mateo Gil, believes that the most effective way to do that is by providing useful information about security issues. For instance, in Valencia there are around 100 races each year that bring disruption to the city. Through its Twitter account (@policialocalvlc) we inform the public about the race routes and the streets that are going to be closed. Furthermore, information during the races is provided in real time. That is to say, if you want to attract the attention of citizens you should help them to make their daily life easier. As the authority who issue traffic and parking fines, the public image of the police in Spain is often not as good as it might be, this can be a hard goal. Showing the public the other, varied activites and tasks in which police officers are engaged is therefore helpful in changing this image and social media is a valuable tool in achieving this. Improving our image is very important in building a more co-operative relationship with our citizens, encouraging them to support us in our work and in so doing further helping to secure greater public security.As a local police department we have the opportunity to build strong ties with the community that we serve. Providing useful, daily information is a strong building block on which to build this relationship. But once we are considered as a useful source of information it is our duty to take advantage of our status and give advice to citizens about public security issues. In this way PLV raises awareness among citizens about the importance of obeying the regulations; furthermore, PLV alerts citizens about trendy crime behaviours, spreads alerts of missing persons, refutes rumours… They are mainly messages that try to prevent offences and help citizens to be more responsible. Finally, we try to keep a two-way communication with citizens. We want to be seen as a source of useful and reliable information at the same time that we interact with citizens and collect and respond to their concerns about public security.

Despite all the benefits that we have commented some local police departments are still reluctant to be present on social media. Our experience at PLV supports our encouragement of other local police departments to be actively use social media because we strongly believe that the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.

These and other everyday policing issues will be discussed at the next MEDI@4SEC workshop in Barcelona (14th November 2017). The workshop is now full but you can follow the event on Twitter (@media4sec) and join the ongoing discussion in our LinkedIn group.

Jordi Diego

Valencia Local Police


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