It took a fatal car accident to bring Sergeant Tim Burrows, Traffic Services Communications Office, Toronto Police Services, into the world of social media. He saw the case – a multiple car crash with three fatalities where alcohol was involved – as an opportunity to build an audience and a community around traffic safety. So when media coverage of the accident failed to deliver his message about safe driving, he went online.

“I went to social media because that’s where the public was,” Burrows said. And his efforts paid-off: he became the first authorized social media channel for the Toronto Police, and the most followed individual officer in the world.

After rounds of conversations with leadership, and several obstacles, Burrows’ efforts led to a broad-scale social media presence for the Toronto Police Service.

As Burrows explained, the modern world is now in an experienced economy, and if people have a poor exchange with law enforcement, it will be shared and respect will suffer. He challenged law enforcement to shift that narrative and be a part of those interactions. If that happens, respect for the work of law enforcement, and the law in general, will improve. But his message wasn’t always positive.

Burrows recalled recent scenes of armored, militarized police presence in Ferguson, Mo., and the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, to demonstrate that law enforcement doesn’t understand social media.

“You had an incredible opportunity for three days to share resources for domestic abuse victims, resources for families, and you never took it,” said Burrows.

He challenged attendees to leverage social media as a tool, to invest in those tools, and train officers properly. The simplicity of his message underlined the session, and also recalled themes from yesterday’s cyber attack session, that law enforcement must become more savvy when it comes to technology and modern communication.

But Burrows closed with a reassuring message.

“Aim for finding common ground, not being right, which that can be tough for law enforcement,” he said. “If you build the trust of your community, you’ll have everything.”

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