Hashtag Handcuffs – Police Work on the Internet

We`ve got police.

We`ve got police.

The police, your friend and twitterer. These days it's not just officers in big cities that rely on Twitter and Instagram accounts. On Tuesday at #rp17, a criminologist, police officer and communication researcher discuss the opportunities and challenges for the online work of the police.

There was once a time without hashtags and snapchat stories. But those days are over for our politely-smiling law enforcement officers. These days, almost every regional police bureau has at least one social media account. The trend towards increased police presence online is necessary according to criminologist Thomas-Gabriel Rüdiger however still too seldom. Online law violations that could be prevented online are rarely done so but instead still in the old-fashioned offline way.

According to presenter Alexa Brandt, police forces in Germany now own around 219 accounts on Facebook, Twitter & Co (there were only 19 accounts in 2012). But compared to the Netherlands this is a low number, where there are around 2500 accounts, also in part owned by individual officers. If Germany were to reach a comparable quota, there would need to be around 10000 police owned social media accounts.

André Karsten joined the police force in Frankfurt am Main when he was 27. Initially, he was a patrol officer but now works in the press department and tweets in the name of the law. In Frankfurt, there is clearly a positive impact thanks to the Facebook and Twitter accounts

 “I have the feeling that we can see inside people's head much better and receive a lot more positive feedback”, says Karsten. “When you're out on the streets you might hear “thank you” once a month, people say this a lot more often on Facebook.”

In spite of all the positive effects, criminologist Rüdiger still thinks there is a long way to go. In the future, he hopes that there will be a normalisation of online work in the digital sphere. Additionally every police station needs to have its own social media accounts. “All citizens must be able to reach their local police station via social media.”

The police can improve their image through their work on Facebook & Co., says communication researcher Katharina Kleinen-von Königslow. ”It is an interesting development that citizens can now directly contact the police. Every form of political work is improved if it is legitimised by the public and so social media also legitimises the work of police.

By Theresa Liebig (EJS), Laura Eßlinger (EJS)

Photo credit: Gregor Fischer (CC BY-SA 2.0)