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Police Dislike Social Media Meddling in SWAT Operations

Law enforcement officials look to educate the public about potential dangers that come with sharing too much information during an emergency situation.

by Loretta Park, McClatchy News service / August 4, 2014

Whether it is a bomb scare, a standoff or a fire, law enforcement officers across the country know people will post to social media photos and status of what is happening.

“We’re not discouraging anyone (from posting on social media), but to be respectful and not compromise our safety, someone else’s safety or even their own safety to get that cool photo,” said Weber County Sheriff’s Sgt. Lane Findlay

After several shootings in Oregon, law enforcement agencies in Oregon have launched a campaign called “Tweet Smart” in order to get the word out about potential dangers of sharing too much information during an emergency.

Utah’s law enforcement agencies are not involved in the campaign, but they do have similar concerns, officials said.

One of the main concerns is people posting photos of police officers during a standoff or in other situations that could jeopardize their lives, a victim’s life or the safety of the public.

Clinton Police Chief Bill Chilson said during a standoff in May when police had located a man wanted in a robbery out of Roy, several people drove up to the scene wanting to know what was going on after they had read posts on Twitter and Facebook about police in the neighborhood.

“We can’t give out information to the general public arriving at the scene just to see what is going on,” Chilson said. “It takes our officers’ focus on what they need to do and we’d hate to see someone get hurt.”

Law enforcement officers do not want to restrict what is posted on social media but hope the public will use common sense before posting photos or comments during an emergency.

Some basic common sense tips offered by police include:

  • Call 911 if you see or are experiencing an emergency. Dispatchers do not get information through social media but through live telephone calls.
  • Do let family and friends know you are safe. If possible send out text messages instead of calling each person so cell phone services don’t crash.
  • Do warn others through social media or text messages if you have first-hand knowledge of a developing emergency.
  • Do not tweet or post information about the movements of law enforcement officers during an emergency. A criminal who is wanted by police may be familiar with the area.
  • Do not put yourself in a photo (take a selfie) and endanger yourself, no matter how compelling.
  • Do not spread rumors through posts, tweets or retweets.

It is OK to post photographs and videos about the response of law enforcement after the emergency is over.

Misinformation being spread about a situation during an emergency through social media is a problem, said Kaysville Police Chief Sol Oberg. That is why his office, like many other law enforcement agencies in Utah, have their own Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Recently Kaysville had to shut down Main Street due to a bomb scare. Many residents learned in real time why the street was shut down through social media.

“We reached a lot of people that way and were able to educate them on what was going on quickly,” Oberg said. “People feel better if they understand. They want to know what is going on in their community.”

Even though police worry about what is being posted on social media during an emergency, they know they cannot stop the public from posting information. They just hope people will use common sense.

“It is possible someone in the crowd is giving direct information about what our officers are doing to the people inside the house,” Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson said.

They also appreciate how social media can help them solve crimes.

Chilson and others said when they post photos of wanted suspects the information they get back saves officers time during an investigation because the public helps officers find those who are wanted for questioning.

“Social media is a great thing,” Findlay said. “It has helped us many times in identifying and apprehending suspects.”

©2014 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah)

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