Digital engagement with the public in a casual, safe environment can often be a challenge for police. A number of departments have adopted social media to improve communication with their community members. The Seattle Police Department has gotten even more creative, taking their communication efforts a step further.
In a recent article by GeekWire, three officers from the Seattle Police Department’s public affairs office were highlighted for their innovative approach to expanding the agency’s digital engagement with its community.
“We’re constantly looking for some platforms that we can use to share the word and do our job, which is digital engagement,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, Seattle PD’s public affairs director.
The agency is already ahead of many others, using Twitter, Reddit, Nextdoor and a department blog to communicate with community members. But their most recent platform of choice is Twitch, a streaming platform owned by Amazon and designed to let people watch others play video games. The officers use it to stream themselves playing “Destiny,” a sci-fi first person shooter game, while they strike up conversations about police-related topics. Discussions have included anything from robbery prevention to driving safely in the snow.
“We basically go through the week and see, ‘Well, what’s an important topic this week? What is it that people want to hear from the police department about?'” Whitcomb said. “And then we just talk about it, the three of us, on the Twitch stream.”
Whitcomb said the department’s communication over the last few years has been heading in “a much more candid, open, friendly, humorous, transparent direction.” Senior communications manager Jonah Spangenthal-Lee is largely responsible for that transition. He joined the team about five years ago with a goal to “give people a reason to come directly to a government site for content, and have it be accurate, quick, interesting and creative in its delivery method.”
It’s common for police officers to reach out to youth in their communities through sports in places like city rec centers and YMCA’s. But Spangenthal-Lee realized there were a number of kids missing from that group. He wanted to do more to reach those who weren’t interested in sports. Those “who may be a little more introverted and might not ever have any direct contact with police in their lives.”
“We have officers who go to basketball and flag football, boxing gyms and things like that,” said Spangenthal-Lee. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for that same style communication for folks that prefer video games or streaming.”
Sgt. Whitcomb referred to the Twitch stream as a safe place to have honest dialogue.
Destroying aliens aside, the team is quick to admit that the video game is simply a tool for engaging with a different part of their community. Whitcomb claims that Seattle PD has been “an innovator and leader in police reform,” citing its involvement in the movement for increased video transparency.
“We were releasing officer-involved shooting videos typically within 24 hours for the last several years,” Whitcomb said. “So we’re not strangers to trying new things and not letting ‘it’s always been done this way’ be a barrier to experimenting with new and different ways to really measure up to community trust and expectations.”
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