Facebook Patrol: The Social Police Beat

Excerpt from The Crime Report, Center on Media, Crime and Justice
By K. Daniel Glover

For 24 hours in early April, residents of Dunwoody, Ga., got a call-by-call glimpse of what it’s like to patrol the Atlanta suburb. Police in the city, which is home to about 46,000 people at night and 100,000 each workday, reported calls on Twitter as they happened.

From the first call of the day (a traffic stop that resulted in a verbal warning) to the 111th call at 6 a.m. the next morning (a report of a suspicious person who was gone when police arrived), the department kept its citizens in the loop on every move officers made. Domestic disputes, child neglect, burglaries, gunshots, drugs, fights, car accidents, road hazards, noise complaints, 911 miscalls, false alarms — you name it, the police broadcast it in as close to real time as possible.

“We’re still trying to really connect with our community and to let people know what we do, and also to provide some transparency in our efforts,” Chief Billy Grogan said of Dunwoody, which was incorporated in 2008. “This is just another way to really try to reach our community.”

Dunwoody is not alone. Dozens of police departments across the country — and around the world — are moving into the social media space, both to connect with citizens and to search for criminals. These community leaders even have a conference geared toward them, Social Media in Law Enforcement, which was held last week in Chicago.

(Read the article)

Editor’s note: This article also was published at the blog Justice 2.0, a project that the author produced as part of his John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Fellowship to the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Judging Social: Modern Media In Court

Reprinted from Justice 2.0, a blog about social media in the courts
By K. Daniel Glover

The man who represents himself in court may well have a fool for a client, but the Indiana Supreme Court is doing its part to make sure that man is a little less foolish.

Over the past few years, the court has been producing Internet videos aimed at educating people who choose to represent themselves. The series includes introductory lessons, specific tips for various stages of the legal process and topical videos on subjects like children and divorce. Some of the clips have more than 10,000 views each.

Online videos like those on the Indiana high court’s YouTube channel are just one technique that courts — and some judges — are using to expand their communications horizons. As more people go to social media for information, the judicial branch is getting social to reach them.

“There’s widespread interest in the topic in the court community,” said Chris Davey, the public information director for Ohio’s Supreme Court. He has been spearheading research of social media in the courts for the Conference of Court Public Information Officers. “Almost every day there are courts that are starting to use some form of social media.”

Even the International Criminal Court has a Twitter account and YouTube channel.

The 21st-century court reporter
The Indiana Supreme Court is one of several U.S. courts on Twitter, a move that PIO Kathryn Dolan credits to changing media realities — and to her boss Chief Justice Randall Shepherd, whom she calls “a newspaperman at heart.”

“What we’re seeing nationally and globally is obviously a shift in how people consume news,” Dolan said. “They decide what they want to hear and learn about and go directly to the source in many cases. And we felt that it was important to provide that information and that means for them to gather that information directly from us.”
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Trial By Twitter: Real-time Court Coverage

Reprinted from Justice 2.0, a blog about social media in the courts
By K. Daniel Glover

Helen Ubinas was a lone voice tweeting in a media wilderness in January 2010. The Harford Courant columnist was the only journalist reporting in real time via Twitter during jury selection of a high-profile murder trial — an experiment she began by happenstance when the reactions of potential jurors intrigued her.

“Mostly I thought I was ‘talking’ to myself, just jotting down impressions of the young woman who broke down crying when she saw Hayes, the high-stakes lawyering taking place, etc.,” Ubinas said in an email interview. “But suddenly people started to follow me — and they began sending messages. I realized quickly that people were very interested in the case, in the judicial system. They wanted every single detail.”

By the time the jury found Steven Hayes guilty of killing three people in Cheshire, Conn., Ubinas was one of a half-dozen reporters covering the case live in news blurbs and sound bites of 140 characters or less. Their work amassed such a following that Hayes’ defense team blamed Twitter for creating a “circus atmosphere,” and the second defendant in the murder case, Joshua Komisarjevsky, later tried to keep tweeters out of the courtroom.

The reporter’s notebook online
The Cheshire murder trials highlight the increasing significance of Twitter both as a news tool in general and as a great gadget for covering trials in particular. Journalists can report dramatic testimony, legal maneuverings and more as soon as they happen, and they can do it in more detail than traditional media allow.

High-profile trials such as the Cheshire case and the federal corruption trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., attract the most attention. But some local court reporters have made Twitter part of their daily routines.

The value of live-tweeting trials quickly becomes apparent to journalists who try it. They hear from crime-news junkies, lawyers involved in trials and especially family members of crime victims. “Family members who could not be in court thanked me for making it possible for them to ‘be there,'” Ubinas said of both the Hayes trial and another one she tweeted more recently.
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