Social Media Spotlight

Communication as a Tool to Fight Violent Crime

A stock image of a screen with social media icons.

A sudden surge in violent crime hits many American cities almost simultaneously. The old culprits—gangs, drugs, and guns—are to blame. As law enforcement agencies work to stem this dangerous tide, they set up task forces with local, state, and federal partners and go to work to make arrests and take guns and drugs off the streets. But, many agencies add another critical element to their crime-fighting efforts—communication. 

Progressive law enforcement agencies are not just out there taking down bad guys. They are bringing the community they serve into the huddle with them using their own department’s social media platforms. Employing services like Facebook and Twitter, police can talk directly to the public, particularly communities ravaged by violence, and leverage support for the crackdowns.

Columbus, Ohio, Police Department tweet announcing a 4-day operation to crack down on criminal activity and code violations.

Yes, the traditional media is included in these communication campaigns, but the best levels of law enforcement outreach are those that provide access to everyone via the use of live-video streaming services, like Facebook Live or Periscope. Both live social media platforms are free and allow any department, regardless of size, to broadcast its community meetings or news conferences. The law enforcement agency includes the news media in announcements or updates of its violent crime initiative but does not rely solely on that coverage.

St. Louis, Missouri, Police Department tweet regarding the capture of two carjack suspects and the recovery of the vehicle and several dangerous weapons.

The St. Louis, Missouri, Police Department, like many other agencies, uses its own Twitter feed for a virtual “show and tell,” displaying the results of the relentless, hard work of restoring safety to a neighborhood. This strategy of talking directly to the public by using social media can help negate a false narrative that might arise after a major police operation. 

Richmond, Virginia, Police Department tweet picturing a Lieutenant preparing for a community walk.

The Richmond, Virginia, Police Department not only does community walks through neighborhoods victimized by violence but also takes social media followers along. Its message to citizens here is, “We in law enforcement are committed to keeping you safe. You can see for yourselves what we are doing and join us.”

When law enforcement agencies make communication a strategic priority during their campaigns against violent crime, the community feels cared about and more likely will want to be involved in a positive way. Ultimately, stifling violence in communities is not just a law enforcement effort. It must be done with the support of the people who live in those communities. Communicating the great work of law enforcement helps fortify that support. 

Gail Pennybacker, an instructor in the Leadership Programs and Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy, prepared this Social Media Spotlight. She can be reached at