- Associated Press - Monday, November 24, 2014

MONROE, La. (AP) - Law enforcement officers are increasingly required to know and use the latest technology and social media to keep up with the public’s demand.

Master Sgt. Stan Felts with Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office patrol division has an assortment of devices available in his patrol unit. At center stage is his laptop, which lets him check messages from the public and - more importantly - helps track of other patrol officers’ calls and locations.

Patrol deputies have access to the system that allows dispatchers to plug in information about criminal activity. Deputies responding to a domestic violence complaint - one of the most dangerous calls - can see all prior police activity at that residence so they know what they’re walking into.

Digital engagement between police and citizens is on the rise, according to a recent study by Accenture, a management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. The study is titled, “How can digital police solutions better serve citizens’ expectations?” The study surveyed thousands in eight countries, including the United States.

It found that 82 percent believe digital tools help improve police services; 79 percent want digital interaction instead of or in addition to face-to-face; 88 percent say digital technology helps beat crime; and 72 percent are more likely to use social media than one year ago.

Across the country, Accenture said, police agencies are improving their digital capabilities. The percentage of citizens who say their local police force currently uses digital channels has doubled in two years - 42 percent in 2014 versus 20 percent in 2012. However 77 percent say digital should be used more, according to the study.

Digital channels with the public have a tremendous benefit to prevent and solve crime, OPSO public information officer Glenn Springfield said. Citizens can pass along pictures or information on a suspicious vehicle that has cased neighborhoods, or details about burglaries or other tips through private Facebook messages. Sometimes information is provided to the sheriff’s office as a crime is being committed.

“Social media has been called by some the 21st-century method of walking the beat and interacting with citizens to gain the information needed by police to keep the community safe and solve crime,” Springfield said.

Felts agrees that digital tools improve police services, officer safety and communication with the public.

“People are so much more comfortable using their computer, staying behind their screen and not having to talk to somebody. Some people are shy and don’t want to call the police,” Felts said.

Springfield checks Facebook several times a day. Investigators follow all information about criminal activity.

He advises people to use traditional means to contact police for emergencies because Facebook posts, Twitter messages and emails will not reach law enforcement as quickly as a phone call.

Almost every day OPSO utilizes its website to post information about a cleared case, advisories, warnings or details about an open investigation seeking public assistance.

The Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office website includes links sex offender registration, wanted persons and special public advisory information such as Amber alerts. One of the most popular digital offerings is bookings at Ouachita Correctional Center with daily arrest records.

“People look at that every day. That’s a good way to keep people aware of what’s going on in their community,” Springfield said.

The sheriff’s office also uses a Facebook page, Twitter, and an alert system through Nixle to communicate with the public.

“Social media is simply a means for us to keep citizens informed about what is going on in the sheriff’s office and in the community. Successful law enforcement is dependent on the interaction of police officers with the public. Social media leads to open communication between law enforcement and the general public in a much more comfortable way for most people,” Springfield said.

Monroe Police Chief Quentin Holmes believes strongly in the power of communication via social media. The department is revamping all of its social media channels and website. The new design should be rolled out by the first of the year.

A number of cases have been solved through communication with the public via social media, usually when someone informs investigators the location of a wanted suspect.

“It’s a very valuable tool for law enforcement. We can quickly share important information to the public and our citizens can also contact us to give us feedback or tips on criminal activity,” Holmes said.

The department uses social media to inform the public of hot spots of criminal activity, warn residents to be mindful of certain crimes and receive information that could lead to arrests.

State Police Trooper Mike Reichardt said social media has improved the dissemination of information to the public and allowed troopers to close cases faster with tips from the public.

Recently, troopers quickly located a hit and run suspect after people saw the suspected vehicle after it was posted on social media, Reichardt said.

State police use Facebook and Twitter every day to inform the public when roads are closed and spread information about hit and run suspects, Amber alerts and severe weather details.

“People are more apt to talk to us anonymously and they’ll express more that way. It works great for us, allowing us to quickly advise the public about crashes were are working. It’s the wave of the future. Everyone uses social media now, and they’re quick to tell us what they like or dislike about what we are doing,” Reichardt said.

Reichardt fields comments from the public through all of Troop D’s digital channels.

Tips, advice and questions flood state police’s email inboxes and social media channels, Reichardt said.

“Without social media, a lot of stuff would fly by the wayside,” Reichardt said.

___

Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com


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