That’s the necessary gear of the future beat cop, as envisioned at the SMILE Conference—”Social Media, the Internet, and Law Enforcement” — held over three scorching September days in downtown Dallas. The site was the incongruously trendy Aloft Hotel, where the generally beefy and buzz-cut crowd learned the ins and outs of tweeting while surrounded by tasteful splatter art, concrete-slab walls, and white leather sofa cubes.
In their Web savvy, the hundred-plus police officers and other law-enforcement pros in attendance ranged from social-media pioneers like Toronto constable Scott Mills, who checks into Foursquare and Facebook as he walks the beat, all the way down to decrepit veterans who, in the words of one attendee, “are still figuring out solar calculators.” For the latter group, early-morning sessions helped to teach basics: Day one, setting up a Twitter account; Day 2, setting up a Facebook account (with the right privacy settings); Day 3, using TweetDeck and — a last-minute addition, said the conference organizer — Google+.
Then later each day, from the podium, speakers delved into some more advanced material. Capt. Mike Parker, who runs public information for the Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s Department, explained the magic of Google Alerts (to monitor chatter about your department) and YouSendIt (to get large video files to the media). The one commonality: Almost all the recommended tech was free, since most police departments have minuscule budgets for software or services. When a rep from a social-media monitoring firm mentioned his starting price—$500 per month—a few attendees snickered audibly from the back.
So, how should the police use the Web? Here were some of the takeaways: