Capt. Chris Hsiung’s career in law enforcement spans 22 years, but five years ago, his focus turned online — and he hasn’t looked back. At the time, he was in charge of special operations, focused on tasks that allowed him to be forward-looking. That combined with an interest in how technology could make the Mountain View, Calif., Police Department more efficient led him to dive into social media.
Specifically, Hsiung was interested in moving past the prevailing view at the time that social media was a one-way communications tool. A 2012 social media conference offered a message about how to reach customers and develop brand loyalty, and it resonated with him.
“Although we don’t have a product per se that we sell, we actually do, and that’s our service,” he said.
Mountain View PD started tweeting about incidents in almost real time and revealed to followers where officers were “hiding” for traffic enforcement. Today the agency is a social media leader in the public sector. For Hsiung it’s about depositing positives into the bank of community trust. “Each time you interact online, even if someone is leaving a negative comment and you write them back and you interact, you’re transparent, those are all little deposits,” he said. “Over time that creates a nice balance for you to draw from in case there’s ever a crisis.”
In 2014, those efforts paid off when an officer on the force was arrested. The department posted an open letter to the community on Facebook and faithfully replied to each person who commented.
Social media has also changed the agency’s relationship with the media and the public information role, placing a premium on the speed and accuracy of information that goes out.
Hsiung also pays attention to the element of fun because, as he said, “it’s about being memorable and sharable.” The evidence is in the stats: A recent Star Wars-themed video about DUIs was viewed more than 20,000 times on Facebook alone — an impressive number for the city of 77,000 people.