Has the Internet Killed the Crime Beat? The Influence of Social Media on Police Communications and Relationships with the Press
Orthner, Judith Anne
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This study examines the use of social media by police services to communicate directly to citizens and how this practice has had an impact on police relationships with the news media in Saskatchewan. Particular attention is paid to the role of the services’ Public Information Officer (PIO) whose job is to manage communication between the police and the public. Nine interviews with officials from Saskatchewan’s municipal police services were carried out, and the changing landscape for police communications since the introduction of social media is described. These officials served in a number of capacities, including police administrator, social media expert, public information officer, and investigator. The findings reveal that police services have embraced social media as a communications tool that increases their control over the messages being delivered to the public. Furthermore, social media is used to enhance police legitimacy through the portrayal of increased transparency and accountability. Police investigators report that using social media has, in some respects, improved their ability to cast a wider and more efficient net for receiving public information on criminal activities and non-criminal matters. However, respondents reported that soliciting information from the public has also made their work more challenging through the public’s greater interest in police operations. The study also describes how administrative oversight within police services is imperative to ensure that social media use is informed by policy and operational strategy. Suggestions for additional research and policy development for social media use are offered based on the findings of this research.