You may not be aware, but you play a role in helping police during incidents such as manhunts and active shooter situations. Not only does the public’s cooperation help police, but extra attention to what gets posted online during the incidents can help keep everyone involved safe and keep suspects from getting away.
Social media has changed the game for police in many ways. The police now use it alongside traditional means of communication to convey information to the public. However, it isn’t always helpful.
“We would ask that the public not display or share the location of police officers on social media [during active incidents],” said Det. Sgt. Damian Kowalewich from the Saanich Police Department.
Every situation that police deal with is different, Kowalewich explained. He was an active shooter incident instructor for many years and has lots of experience with dangerous, active incidents.
With training and planning, police are able to quickly assess an incident and decide how best to handle it, he said. This includes whether or not the public should be asked to stay away, how large the containment area should be and where best to station officers in order to remedy the situation successfully and safely.
While the police can’t force the public not to post on social media during an active incident, there are several reasons why it’s best to help the police by being careful about what gets posted online during an active police incident.
The location of police officers is strategic and purposeful to ensure success, said Kowalewich. The goal is to keep the public and the officers safe and arrest dangerous people. If a photo showing the location of police or a post about what they’re doing goes online, the person or people they’re attempting to apprehend could be tipped off. Then, the suspect would know how to avoid the police and evade capture or target the officers.
While some may be aware that it’s unsafe to post about police presence during an active incident, posts about the location of traffic control officers are common online because in a way, it’s harmless. The goal is to warn others to slow down in the area because police are watching. However, this is also not advised, said Kowalewich, as dangerous drivers may not be caught because they’ll modify their driving while passing the officer but go right back to speeding later.
“Don’t let people know where we are because we’re there for a reason,” Kowalewich explained. “Give us our space and let us do what we need to do. It’s all about having a successful outcome and a non-violent outcome.”
So keep the details to a minimum, or save the photos and social media posts for after the incident is resolved.