Impact of Positive Stories Through Social Media
By Benjamin Bliven, M.A.
Negativity spreads like wildfire. When a police officer conducts even slightly questionable actions, any video footage almost instantly can go viral on social media. Most of us can recall recent officer-related incidents that represented law enforcement in a negative light. How do we move forward and build trust within our communities? Today more than ever, we must share stories of police having a positive impact on the lives of others. Such accounts can help the public understand the great work officers perform daily and offset the negativity from isolated events.
An insurgence of anti-law enforcement groups has evolved that encourages the public to resist police or possibly lure them into certain actions while recording them. Such groups intend on antagonizing officers. Some elected officials have shown a lack of support for law enforcement by speaking openly about the need for police reform. Further, some legislators have begun to call for increased examinations of SWAT and police teams.
To continue doing our jobs effectively, we need to build trust with the communities we serve. Our agencies do not have marketing departments to help us shine in a positive light. Unfortunately, many media reports depict officers negatively, which not only has added to the antipolice rhetoric around the country but also has resulted in safety concerns for law enforcement. Such negative stories can empower people to resist officers and even act aggressively toward them.
Chief Bliven serves with the Wausau, Wisconsin, Police Department.
Social Media Influence
Law enforcement agencies are relatively new to social media platforms. Many have developed this online presence only within the last 5 years and typically use such services to share daily arrest reports, weather warnings, mug shots, surveillance videos, traffic issues, legal updates, photos of lost dogs, drug-take-back days, and even donut jokes. The tremendous work our officers do every day seems missing. We must share the heartwarming stories abundant in law enforcement to advocate for our profession and our officers.
- Police giving a tour of the department to a cub scout troop
- Officers stopping in at a children’s school performance to say hello
- A diabetic officer meeting with young children suffering from the disease who fear they cannot accomplish their dreams
- Troopers volunteering their time to build a ramp for a man who lost a leg
- A deputy hugging a young child on Superhero Day
- An officer explaining the job of a K9 to a child
- A trooper playing ice hockey with a group of kids
- Sheriff’s office employees volunteering their time on ski patrol
Police leaders should share positive stories proactively with their communities, which will garner support and trust from the people they serve. When we sit idly by while letting negative reports swirl and accusations of misconduct go unanswered, we lose support. Some agencies already effectively share stories, while others say that they do not have the time to do so or that such actions are not necessary. Many departments simply let their actions speak for themselves.
An agency can communicate its message to the public more quickly and powerfully when using social media. We must inform people in our communities and country of the positive work police officers do every day.
One Department’s Experience
As a result of its efforts in sharing positive stories, the Wausau, Wisconsin, Police Department (WPD) has received tremendous support from the community. Despite a population of only 40,000, many of the agency’s social media shares have had over 200,000 views. In fact, one story almost reached 1 million. The positive response from the community has proven significant, but the appreciation from WPD’s staff has been overwhelming. Employees enjoy seeing accounts about themselves and their friends. WPD even shared excerpts from an officer’s body-camera video after he slipped on ice twice in one day, each time making good-natured fun of himself.
Publishing positive stories has increased department morale and loyalty. Officers’ wellness and view of their job has improved. They must believe that their work matters. We hold them accountable when they do things wrong; therefore, we need to be accountable to them when they do things right. When more people appreciate law enforcement and advocate outwardly for the profession, officers also become safer.
Police organizations should share the positive stories that occur every day, minimizing the possible impact of negative messages and attitudes toward our profession. Leaders must manage their department's image and ensure that the crisis of the day does not take precedence. We must identify ways to become more purposeful in finding and sharing uplifting accounts.
Each of us should take steps to stand behind law enforcement and establish positive momentum within our communities, profession, and country. The best part about serving as a police officer is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others on a daily basis. When we recognize and share these stories, we build community, increase support for law enforcement, and decrease the negativity surrounding this honorable profession.
Chief Bliven can be contacted at Benjamin.Bliven@ci.wausau.wi.us.