When Vancouver erupted into riots more than a year ago after a Stanley Cup loss, the city – and its police – were taken by surprise. Today, that might be a different story. Police across North America and around the world have developed an active presence on Twitter – using the social network both to monitor rabble-rousers seeking to stir up trouble and to preempt confrontations before they start. Cops from as far as Australia and Belgium descended on Vancouver recently to attend the Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement Conference (SMILE for short). I covered the heavily hashtagged proceedings for Vancouver Magazine.
To Tweet and Protect
By Remy Scalza for Vancouver Magazine
On a recent rainy afternoon at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 150 cops from as far away as Australia are getting chewed out by one of their own. “A riot can go from zero to 150 with one Tweet,” says Toronto training constable Nathan Dayler. A veteran of both the G-20 riots and Occupy demonstrations, Dayler has had more experience than most policing the Twittersphere. “You can’t let tension just simmer on social media,” he says. “That’s not an option.”
Tweets, hash tags, and netiquette are the subjects of the day at the fifth installment of Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE). A kind of boot camp for police departments training up on social media, the conference broaches issues as diverse as mining Facebook for open-source intelligence to getting the most out of your 140 characters on Twitter.
“There’s such a big gap between where law enforcement is and what they can achieve with these tools,” says Lauri Stevens, who started SMILE in 2010 and has 14,895 followers on Twitter (@lawscomm). The rare expert equally at home discussing perps and pingbacks, Stevens, 50, began her career in the 1980s as a journalist in Boston, walking the beat with police, paramedics and fire officials. She later chaired an interactive media department at a local college, becoming an early social-media convert.
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