Open government advocates worry that posting on social media allows law enforcement to avoid questions from the traditional news media.
Douglas County, Co., Sheriff Tony Spurlock posted on his department’s social media accounts a carefully edited video of the events that led to 29-year-old deputy Zack Parrish”s Dec. 31 death in an apartment complex south of Denver. There’s nothing wrong with police communicating through social media, open government advocates said. They worry it allows law enforcement to bypass questions from traditional media and warn that taking advantage of the tools requires agencies to be completely transparent, the Associated Press reports. Police have made use of social media for years, from viral videos of officers’ dance-offs with kids to the Boston Police Department’s extensive use of Twitter after the 2013 marathon bombing.
Agencies are eager to cut the middleman and tell their own stories, said Lauri Stevens, a former TV news reporter who founded an annual conference in 2010 that teaches departments about promoting themselves on social media. Stevens said many agencies are getting better at connecting with residents on routine days, sharing updates and knocking down rumors during high-profile incidents. Sgt. William Hutchison, Palm Springs police spokesman, presented at Stevens’ conference last year about his agency’s communications strategy after two officers were shot dead in 2016. Looking back, Hutchison said he would have posted even more information directly to Facebook and Twitter. Hutchison said he doesn’t view social accounts as a way to avoid traditional media. “More people watch the news than the number of people who watch us, and you’ve got to maintain that relationship,” he said. “But law enforcement is becoming more skilled and has (our) own platform now that we didn’t have before.”