More and more, police are using social media as a way to connect directly to residents in their communities.
But the Manchester Police Department has yet to join the ranks of agencies on Facebook and other popular sites.
As the events of the Boston Marathon bombing unfolded and police hunted for the perpetrators, reporters turned to Twitter for the latest developments.
Their best source? The Boston Police Department.
“What was incredible about it was they actually corrected mainstream media, who was basically releasing inaccurate information as this case unfolded in real time,” said Manchester Lieutenant Maureen Tessier, the department’s public information officer.
She welcomes bringing a similar approach to New Hampshire’s largest police department.
“We think that social media is something that could potentially create a much broader base of communication with our community and engage a lot more folks. I think the younger group out there, they’re not sitting at home watching channel 9. But they are checking their Facebook page every 20 seconds.”
But right now, Manchester has a long way to go before reaching Boston’s level of social media prowess.
The department has a Twitter account with some twenty five hundred followers, but rarely tweets – in fact, only about a dozen times this year.
And it has no presence on Facebook.
Chief David Mara says he is intrigued, but worries diving into social media without a plan could backfire.
“That might discourage people. If they’re sending Twitter back to us, or they’re posting on…say we got a Facebook page. I just want to make sure we have the resources so we can communicate back and forth.”
Massachusetts-based consultant Lauri Stevens works with police departments across the country on using social media.
She says while there is no shortage of law enforcement agencies using social media, very few are doing it well.
“A lot of law enforcement agencies do what I call treating it as a check box, and they just put up a Facebook page and get themselves on Twitter and then kind of stop there. They don’t realize that there’s so much more value to be had if they were a little more proactive and had a plan for what they wanted to do with it.”
That’s why she says Manchester is right to be cautious in jumping in without a plan.
But she also says departments that wait too long are missing out.
Stevens says most people want to help police solve crimes.
And when police engage their followers, she says that shows they are willing to include residents in that process.
“Then what happens when they need some help finding a suspect or a missing person or what have you, they’re going to be more likely to get that help from the citizens if they’ve established that rapport.”
A survey of 600 departments last year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that 92 percent use social media, primarily for criminal investigations.
Three-quarters of those departments said social media had helped solve crimes.
Just down the road from Manchester, Merrimack Police Chief Mark Doyle ticks through the department’s social media sites.
“We’re on Linked In, we have a YouTube channel that we’ve put together, as well as a Pinterest site.”
Merrimack is a town about a quarter the size of the Queen City.
Its department has fully embraced social media.
Administrators work with detectives to ensure they are getting information out on social media as crimes happen.
And Chief Doyle says they’ve seen results.
Just that morning, a report of a missing 12-year-old girl was shared by many of the department’s nearly three thousand combined Facebook and Twitter followers.
“We started to get information back in our communications division almost immediately because of that one instance this morning.”
The missing girl was found in less than an hour.
But Doyle says part of his job is also keeping up with trends.
The department is currently exploring using Instragram.
“There’s a lot that’s happening out there that I think for us to be as in touch with the community that we serve we have to cognizant of what our community is doing as far as social media goes.”
Back at the Manchester Police Department, Lieutenant Tessier says she’s eager for the department to move forward.
She also knows proper training is critical.
“If we release too much information that could potentially prejudice a jury down the road during trial, that’s where we run into some issues, as well.”
That’s why she plans to attend workshops this fall – to learn more about the right way for Manchester to fight crime using new media tools.