In addition to tracking how many cars have been stolen and homes burglarized, Bill Murphy, Captain of the LAPD Northeast Division, has also been keeping a close eye on a new set of numbers to measure his division's performance. But these statistics don't measure crime. Instead these figures tell him how many people "like" the Northeast Division Facebook page, follow its Twitter feed and, as of last week, have watched its YouTube channel (The stats as of Sunday were 1,690 Facebook "likes," 589 Twitter followers and 162 YouTube views). "Our goal is to increase our social media presence," said Murphy, who is spearheading what is perhaps the LAPD's most ambitious leap into online outreach. "That's a big deal for us this year."
In the future, Northeast residents can expect to watch police town halls and neighborhood watch meetings live over the Internet and have watch commanders tweet about police pursuits and LAPD helicopter activity. In addition to buying new video equipment for webcasts, the Northeast Division is also purchasing license plate holders for its fleet of squad cars that will read: Follow Us on Twitter.
Last week, Murphy made his YouTube debut with an approximately 15-minute webcast shot in a corner of the station's cramped Glassell Park station. Murphy concedes the segment - which features him rattling off crime statistics - is too long and clunky. But he promises future programs will be shorter, snappier and more entertaining in a bid to win over and reach out to a young, web-savvy audience. "It's a great way to get the info out there."
Murphy said that using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other online media are a fast and efficient way to educate the public about public safety issues and warn them about criminal threats. But one of the challenges he has faced in using these online tools is a generation gap within the ranks when it comes to new media. "Our younger officers know this stuff. Our challenge for us is our older officers. They don't have Facebook. They don't use Twitter."
That's why he has put some younger officers in the division's Crime Analysis Detail in charge of the Northeast Facebook page.
But Murphy is pushing the use of social media across his division. His staff is currently working on a project that will allow watch commanders, who help supervise and deploy patrol officers, to spread breaking crime news and bulletins via Twitter seven-days a week. Currently, the division's Twitter feed is used on a limited basis on weekdays.
Murphy said the officers in charge of the division's Twitter feed and Facebook page are careful in handling sensitive information. They will not reveal some information that could jeopardize officers in the field or identify suspects by name. But "at least [residents know what's going on," he said.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter and email alerts, Murphy said he has high hopes for webcasts and videos. The first Northeast webcast was shot in the Crime Analysis Detail office - dubbed the "War Room" in the video - with equipment purchased with contributions. Seated in front of a black screen, Murphy did not bother to rehears before his first program. He simply referred to sheets of crime stats as officers shot the video in one take and later added some music and special effects. Future segments, which will be hosted by different Northeast Division officers, will be cut down to five minutes and feature more crime charts, maps and a crime caper.
"We will make it smoother, "but, said Murphy, "it's not going to look like a Channel 7 news production."