Missing Person! Crowdsourcing a Solution

Twenty-four hours had passed since GC went missing. He was suffering from an illness which required daily medication. A worried relative headed to the police to report the incident… right after posting it on her Facebook. She had no doubt of the benefits that asking for other citizens’ collaboration via social media could. But should Law Enforcement Agencies and other security actors use these tools as well to increase the effectiveness of their policing? Through our participation in the MEDI@4SEC community here at Valencia Local Police we are ever more convinced that using social media as a communication and engagement tool can enhance the service we provide to our citizens. As stated by a participant in the Everyday Security workshop, social media “can be used to improve the effectiveness, legitimacy and transparency of citizen collaboration and community participation.”

Coming back to the case of GC´s disappearance, thousands of Facebook shares and retweets were directly made via Valencia Local Police and other LEAs official accounts. One week after he went missing, someone who became aware of the incident via social media heard a low moan coming from a cane field. There he was, trapped, disoriented, and in a critical condition. Firefighters had to rescue him due to the inaccessibility of the spot and GCs poor health. He probably would not have survived if he had been found 24 hours later. Thus, social media, thanks to the further spread and immediacy it has brought, has helped not only LEAS with their potential engagement, but also citizens with a more effective policing being provided.

There is no doubt that the internet, smartphones and social media have become tools to perform activities dealing with public security. They have proved that they are valuable for diverse uses. However, there are a wide range of ethical, legal and privacy issues raised with DIY Policing, which professional security workers have to be aware of in using social media effectively in their jobs. In this sense, the active role of LEAs on social media platforms is essential as reflected in the finding from MEDI@4SEC. By engaging this “active citizenship” and channeling the information via LEAs official and managed accounts of LES, the negative outcomes can be better handled. The thousands of shares and retweets that our official accounts had in this case show us that we are going in the right direction and is reflected in other cases which have adopted a similar approach.

Naturally, there are other side effects which have to be borne in mind by LEAs when adopt a social media presence and new virtual resources. For this reason, the patterns language developed through MEDIA4SEC has become a crucial tool in Valencia’s Local Police Communication Department, having gained a better understanding of its role in the digital environment thanks to the graphic, straightforward approach to the usage patterns of social media by LEAS and other actors. It has catalysed our adoption of digital tools, as well as widened our perspective and made us willing to get out of the comfort zone that was once primarily focused on one-way communications and good public relations. Bidirectional communication is an essential part of our social media strategy and by enabling real time interaction with citizens we have enhanced the daily management of security in our city.

In conclusion, there are public security issues that can benefit from social media platforms usage. It is up to Law Enforcement Agencies whether they fill this space or leave it to other non-public organizations. What the MEDI@4SEC project has taught us is that these tools should, with the proper approach, be embraced by LEAS, who need to become knowledgeable and well-prepared in a world that increasingly is impacted by digital technologies. In our experience, the benefits of taking an active role on these platforms have greatly surpassed the risks that it could have. Furthermore, having an adequate background can help prevent or minimize consequences of any side-effect.  Opportunity knocks but once and we have to be open-minded with all the incoming digital resources in order to cope with DIY Policing.

Rubén Fer

Valencia Local Police

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