Leveraging social media to achieve a community policing agenda

Document Type



agenda setting theory; social media; community policing; police; law enforcement; data analytics

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This research investigates the communication behavior and engagement strategies in the bilateral use of social media between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. It advances existing work by studying municipal level government actors in a new communications environment where social media now play an important part. Grounded in agenda setting theory, our analysis identifies police departments' social media issue priorities, analyzes the responses of their audiences to those communications, and directly compares followers' own conversation priorities with the police agenda. Our data set includes all the content from the Facebook and Twitter accounts of five similarly sized and demographically situated police departments in the U.S., plus all the tweets and posts from the followers or friends responding to those accounts over a 90-day period. We performed both manual coding and machine cluster analysis to elicit major threads of conversation. In addition to the data analytics, we conducted interviews with the five police departments to understand the similarities and differences in agenda priorities resulting from their social media goals and use.
The study shows the priorities that comprise the police agenda, identifies both similarities and differences in what their audiences communicate among themselves about most frequently in the public safety domain relative to the police agenda, and finds evidence of positive response from the public to some of the agenda priorities communicated by the police. Our data also reveal that police are using social media interactively, which could, over time, advance community policing goals. The paper concludes by considering the implications of these findings for law enforcement and community policing and suggests directions for future research on agenda setting in this new media environment.

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