Webinar presenters Katie Nelson and Kate Kimble answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Transparency in the Digital Era. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: In the last 24 hours, a judge denied the publication of police bodycam footage in the police killing of Andrew Brown, Jr. Have you heard of other situations where a court defined institutional transparency that police have followed in previous cases? I can repeat that. I kind of mutilated the question.
Katie Nelson: No need to repeat. I, you know, it’s a great question, because I also had questions regarding that decision and only from a law enforcement perspective. The only reason I can think as to why a decision like that is made in any situation is because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. They don’t want to taint the jury pool. Something that I learned very early on, in my role, here at Mountain View PD, was reinforcing the constitutional right, that anybody has with regards to a fair and impartial trial by their peers. And, if the jury pool has almost too much information ahead of being able to be selected during voir dire, that could cause a real problem for jury selection. And so, that is perhaps the only reason I can think of where the judge is looking forward and going in order to ensure that we have a fair and impartial jury, we can’t release that just yet. That being said the judge also ordered that the body camera footage in its totality be given to the family for viewing so I’m curious if that will get leaked at some point. So, I’m not entirely sure that the process will work, but I guess we’ll see Kate, what about you?
Kate Kimble: Yeah, I echoing that has been a conversation we’ve had in our community for years in terms of releasing body camera and the timeline. And if there’s an active, criminal prosecution, our aim has always been to maintain the investigation and the individual’s right to a fair trial. And part of that is not providing content that could potentially taint the jury process or just prejudice any part of that criminal proceeding? That being said, it certainly is a challenge. And it’s a challenge that I think communities will continue to navigate as things happen, especially high-profile things that really spark a lot of community movement, literally and figuratively. There’s some conversation around what is in the best interest of the community if the town is burning, and perhaps not in a situation as serious as this. If you’ve got a lot of angst and unrest in your community around an incident if you’ve got an opportunity to release content that’s a conversation to have now not in the middle of a crisis. So, I don’t have a lot of insight into the current, particular situation. But I do see this as a call for each of us, to have a conversation with our executive leadership, with our district attorneys, and say, “Okay, if this was happening here, let’s workshop this a little bit. What would your approach be? What are your concerns?” So that if nothing else, you can prepare in advance to have messaging that reflects that. If nothing is going to be released for you, then you can anticipate that, and think through some strategies that you might use within your own community.
Audience Question: Do you have tips on building a social media following? We just started one about a month ago.
Kate Kimble: Yeah. I can jump in on this first, and then maybe Katie, you can sum it up. I think part of a huge part of it is, be present, be present regularly, be engaging and be authentic. People are not going to show up if there is not information regularly and if the information that is there is not useful or relevant to them. That it’s informationally relevant and emotionally relevant. So, part of that is finding a mix of a good balance of content for your audience. And part of it, you know, ask them to ask the people in your community. You got to spread the word to build that audience. But if there was a gap or an absence of communication from your agency and you put it out there, oftentimes, if you can start out authentically with great information. There’s a huge and very quick building of an audience, okay, do you want to add to that? You have great experience in this area.
Katie Nelson: I think what we have to remember is that influencers exist everywhere, and so being able to connect and bring them into your space to help amplify your message is crucial. That could be any public partnerships that you have that could be somebody within your department that really has a very solid voice within the community. There are lots of ways to creatively go about growing your audience. But what we have to remember, at the end of the day, it’s not about likes. And it’s not about followers. It’s about the reach and impressions that you have with your audiences, where you are seeing people reshare your message, both in a digital space and then also, in person. If people are approaching you, for example, in saying that posts that you had last week about whatever topic that really resonated with me, or thank you for posting about what have you in arrest, or a really feel-good moment. Really, what you’re looking for, again, is that translation between what people are seeing in a digital space, and then having them bring it to real life. And so, not only influencers but really that anecdotal component that we had in one of those polls, both of those will help also grow your audiences fairly organically.
Audience Question: My city does not want to show crime on our social media to make it look safe. What are your thoughts on that?
Katie Nelson: I’ll jump in there. And then Kate, by all means, please round out because you’ll say it much nicer than me. I think that’s a mistake. We have to be honest with our communities. We have and if we’re really talking about transparency in all forms, we have to let our communities know that, yes, there are things that exist in our spheres of influence where things aren’t necessarily great all the time. But what you can do there to help maybe mitigate some of the concerns that the city may have is that you talk about also what you’re doing to try and prevent or mitigate crime. And so that could be anything from talking about training to proactive patrolling to what have you, there are a lot of ways to go about doing that. But I do think, ultimately if the city is electing to not share the totality of what’s going on in a community when something does happen, that is a shock to the system. That’s just going to impact your residents even more in terms of their lack of understanding of the totality of what it is that your police department or your public safety departments do.
Kate Kimble: Absolutely. Echoing everything that Katie said, I think it is largely about the way that you frame the information. It’s critical that you’re transparent, and that you provide access to information and proactively put out information about the challenges within your community. And you can do that in a way that doesn’t make it seem like all hell is breaking loose and your town is just becoming crime-ridden. And so, if you’ve not talked about it before, I do think that there are some strategies as far as starting to introduce that. So, the city I live in, Fort Collins, is incredibly safe. It’s the safest city I’ve ever lived in my entire life, and I’ve lived all over the country. It feels a little bit like Disneyland, which is something we say a lot here. Crime happens in Disneyland too. People, I’m sure, you know, get their purses stolen. They get their vehicles broken into. A lot of the crime that happens here is crime that occurs because people feel so safe and they leave their valuables unattended. They leave their cars unlocked. And so, we’ve been able to connect those two things in a way that isn’t a shock to the system. To say, “Hey, we live in an incredibly safe city. And because we live here, people are a little more complacent. And criminals know that there is nothing keeping criminals out of our town. And a lot of them are crimes of opportunity.” So, we can introduce some of those things, connecting it back to the safety of our community. And we can talk about, as Katie said, the ways that we’re working to prevent crime. We can empower community members to take very basic steps to prevent those crimes. And then, we can also work up, if there are other larger themes happening. Drugs are a big one. People just don’t realize that drugs are everywhere and have a negative impact on communities in different ways. And so you can kind of work up to those larger issues that may be a little more shocking to people by starting small and kind of introducing them to the things that connect it to why you are such a great town, which may be that, you know, you’re very safe and that’s why these things happen.
Audience Question: What are your thoughts on using social media to humanize officers in the department? Does it fall into the category of seeking sympathy or support?
Kate Kimble: I think it absolutely falls under the category of support. It is a mission that we strive to do and there’s a challenge there because, you know, officers may have concerns about their own safety or about putting themselves out there. You know, things are going to get trolled, that happens, but I think the more we can share information about the people who were doing the work, their motivations for doing the work that resonates with people. You know, everybody comes to this line of work for a different reason. But everybody is united by this higher desire to serve. And that is so evident when you talk to people who are in public service, that something brought them here. And outside of work, they’re regular people. They’re moms or dads, they’re coaches, they’re just involved in different parts of the community. And so, I think as you bring those elements out, it really creates that connection with the community that is sometimes lacking. Because all people may see is the badge, they don’t realize that there’s a person who wants to help them. Who is doing this job for very noble reasons, and so we can find creative ways to bring that out? That can be extremely powerful in creating those connections within the community.
Katie Nelson: I completely agree. I think what we need to do now, more than ever, is humanize the people who are serving our communities. I had a very intense conversation last night between SROs and community members among which we’re students. And what we’re noticing is that it’s the image of the uniform alone, which is triggering people, and the minute that they finally have this connection in their head about who the people are behind the badge. Suddenly, not only is the uniform not scary anymore, but everything becomes incredibly relatable. And so, what I think we need to champion right now is really bringing out the humanity that exists in this profession and really getting people to understand that the heart and the minds of the people who are coming to serve communities every day are very much in line with what the community members are looking for or hoping for. And we cannot stay silent on something like that, because if we stay silent, not only silence and answer, but you’re essentially giving somebody else license to tell your story for you.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Transparency in the Digital Era.