Social media is a powerful tool for law enforcement agencies to inform, connect, and strengthen relations with their community.
Although these efforts have been ongoing for years, the recent death of George Floyd, which has sparked nationwide protests, is causing law enforcement to focus more on the communities they serve. From Facebook Live, to walking into crowds, officers are looking for innovative ways to get their message through.
“Just Walk with Them”
From Kansas to Washington, there have been Police Chiefs actively joining protestors to answer questions and share their condemnation of police brutality, as well as confirming the need to transparently release body camera footage.
But perhaps no Chief has said it better, with a more human spirit, than Genesee County Sheriff, Chris Swanson. After taking off his security protective gear, he walked over to protestors and shouted: “ I want to make this a parade, not a protest.”
The public knew that his words were genuine and invited him to walk with them in unison, which he happily did. After the protest, Sheriff Swanson made an impassioned plea for other law enforcement agencies to join his approach: “It starts from the top of law enforcement…come (from) behind your podiums, your conference rooms and walk into the crowd. And just walk with them.”
There have been many other moments of solidarity across the US, including Knightdale Police Department who shared a picture on Facebook of officers kneeling and praying with protesters.
“We learned of a group of young adults wanting to gather, to express their First Amendment Rights and protest in honor of Mr. Floyd. We met with the group, developed a quick plan to help them make their way to Knightdale Blvd, and provided traffic control to ensure their safety. The group did an amazing job of sharing their message! We were proud to take a knee and have a prayer with them at the end of their event,” the post said.
In a different approach, Burlington Police Chief J. Jeffrey Smythe was handed a sign during a peaceful protest that read, “End Police Brutality,” according to a post on the department’s Facebook page.
Smythe proudly brought the sign back to police headquarters, where more than 15 officers (photo at the start of this article) took a picture with it to, “express their solidarity with those who protest the killing of George Floyd and all police brutality,” the post stated.
Communicating Anti-Bias Training
Central Oregon police departments have chosen very transparent ways of responding to community concerns surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. The Bend and Redmond Police Departments have included details such as the anti-bias training that their officers undergo.
In a Facebook post, the City of Bend Police outlined several efforts that it has made to work with local groups to enhance diversity training through discussions, presentations, and performances.
Bend PD says that it has partnered with officers from other departments, as well as receiving a performance experience from Central Oregon Community College, “…that explores the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.” They also had a training session scheduled for April, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
And as reported by NewsChannel 21, Redmond Police Department Lt. Aaron Wells explained the significant training period that all new officers go through, as well as the regular reviews that take place to ensure ethical conduct.
Additionally, Wells stressed the importance for people to listen to both sides of any discussion, and to look beyond the uniform: “As law enforcement, we have to do more to show we’re people, too, regardless of the uniform…We live in these communities, we’re part of these communities, and we have unique experiences to share with them also.”
Q&A COMMUNITY Events
Gulfport Police Chief, Leonard Papania, is using social media to improve the relationship between law enforcement and citizens.
In partnership with the, “Extend a Hand, Help a Friend’ organization, Papania hosted a Q&A with Gulfport law enforcement via Facebook Live. The topic was police interactions in minority communities; something that local leaders say must be a priority moving forward.
The keyword is “conversation,” said the Chief, emphasizing that this is a two-way dialogue. “It’s not, ‘Chief of Police go talk to people about what they should do,’” said Chief Papania.
Jeffrey Hulum, from ‘Extend a Hand, Help a Friend,’ said that everyone has to come together. “Everybody’s got to work together to reduce racism, to reduce the infractions of what happens with law enforcement and communities as well.”