March 1st, 2014: Municipal police encounter challenges in social media

March 01, 2014 10:00 pm  •  By Andrew Carr, The Sentinel

There are plenty of uses municipal police can find for social media, but there are not as many personnel able to take on the extra call of duty.

Todd Bashore is chief of East Pennsboro Township Police, which runs a Facebook page. He said maintaining websites and social media accounts are a challenge with limited personnel.

“We try our best to keep it up-to-date, but I believe there is a lot more information that we should be sharing with the community on the Facebook page, but it uses a lot of time and manpower just to keep it current,” he said.

He said a dedicated officer would need to put in several hours a day to regularly update the Facebook page, which would detract from other police work.

Det. Sgt. Daniel Freedman, of the Carlisle Police Department, said they are currently exploring options to set up a reporting website and social media platforms. Currently, the police department’s website is hosted within the Carlisle borough’s website.

Freedman said manpower and budgetary constraints lead police agencies to have issues with setting up these accounts.

“To run it and monitor it properly, you’d have to have somebody assigned to it, and with our recent past here with manpower issues and restructuring and all the other changes, I can tell you here in the last year, it hasn’t even been able to make it to the top of the list because we have so much other stuff going on,” he said.

He said Carlisle is exploring options because the Internet is now a main method of communication and it is important for police agencies to use the same technologies the public uses.

“Obviously communication-wise, that is how people are communicating with each other,” he said. “The days of phone calls are done. You can make a post on Facebook and tell your entire group of friends at one time what is going on.”

Sgt. Steven Kingsborough, of Middlesex Township Police, said social media can also be a hindrance for the department. He said with the dissemination of information — especially in dynamic incidents that could create a public uproar — police now have to deal with crowds that show up on the scene.

“It is certainly a double-edged sword,” he said.

Helping hand

A solution found in Dauphin County came from a Carlisle business.

Matt Bloom, president and CEO of Crimewatch Technologies, said his company, which has built a national communications platform called the crimewatch network, is able to maintain social media accounts and websites, as well as share information with the public and other police departments.

Crimewatch built and maintains a special website for some of the municipal police departments in Dauphin County, including Halifax, Hummelstown, Lykens, Millersburg, Penbrook, Steelton, Susquehanna Township and Swatara Township.

“It is a tool that facilitates information sharing around the idea of building police and public partnerships through the use of technology,” he said. “When I talk to cops about it, I refer to it as a tactical deployment of the web.”

With the constant pressure from the community to engage with the public, he said police departments are feeling the strain, which is eased by the services his company offers.

“Once they start sharing information with the public, that the public is willing to engage with the police department,” he said. “There is a huge investigative potential being able to engage the public to help them solve crimes.“

Bloom cited two examples: the arrests of a wanted child molester and a serial shoplifter.

“One of our biggest success stories here in the last few weeks is that, what we are discovering is that through these police and public partnerships that we’ve created through technology, we can really be useful to crack down on unsolved crimes and find fugitives,” he said.

In Wayne County, a child molester was wanted in 2009 but disappeared, he said. Through the online services, someone in West Virginia was able to provide actionable intelligence to find the man, who had been hiding out in a cabin for the last five years under an alias.

In Swatara Township, police were able to identify a serial shoplifter, after her information was shared across Facebook, leading to her personal account and contact information.

“Traditionally speaking, they could have spent months and months and months trying to figure out who this person was,” he said.

And in that incident, it was found that Silver Spring Township Police were also looking for the suspect.

Social media has a huge potential in helping police more effectively do their job, while saving costs, he said.