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My Rant Nov 21st 2011 CBSA and Social Media

Finally! The CBSA has recognized the value of Social Media. I mean it’s only been 17 years! Why 17 years…well…I would say the birth of Social Media started with Sites like Geocities in 1994. Created by David Bohnett and John Rezner, Geocities allowed users to set up web pages indexed based on geography theme linked topics. In 2001, Wikipedia was started; In 2002, there was friendster; in 2003, MySpace; in 2004, Facebook was launched; and then in 2006 Twitter was born. As of this year 2011, there are over 190 million on Twitter, and 600 million on Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that CBSA has decided to join 2011 and the world of web 2.0, before web 3.0 is upon us. I just like to lament on why government tends to be so far from the cutting edge; especially when it comes to technology. Maybe the public service just does not nurture a culture of innovation. I guess even if I was that brilliant I would have been at MIT and then recruited by the private sector. Lol.

I guess what frustrates me is that not only do we not innovate but we are behind so many other law enforcement agencies or organizations in adopting new technologies.

Yesterday Nov 19th 2011, Chris Doucette of the Toronto Sun, posted an article titled Social media extending law enforcement’s reach. In the article he explains how Social media has become an important crime fighting tool. He also quotes Michael Gordon-Gibson President of Crime Stoppers International who explains that “Having a social media presence is especially important in building relationships with youth” and according to Constable Scott Mills of the Toronto Police “the more tools we have to reach out and communicate with ourselves and the public, the safer our community will be.”

In March of 2012, there will be a conference in Vancouver called SMILE (Social media Internet Law enforcement) and I sincerely hope the CBSA will be attending. According to the organizers,

“Adoption of social media by law enforcement is in a stage of exponential growth. Some law enforcement agencies have already experienced tremendous successes; while others are ready but don’t know how to get started. The law enforcement field is ready to add another weapon to its arsenal. The Social Media the Internet and Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference will arm you with all the technical hands-on skills and the practical knowledge to enter the social media world with confidence”

In an article on Mashable.com by Lon S. Cohen there are 6 six different ways law enforcement is utilizing social media and real-time search to enhance tactics, disseminate public information, and ultimately prevent criminal activity:

1. Police Blotter Blogs – a record of events at a police station in real-time
2. The Digital “Wanted Poster”
3. Anonymous E-Tipsters
4. Social Media Stakeout
5. Thwarting Thugs in the Social Space
6. Tracking and Informing with Twitter
Not a bad list for law enforcement use of social media. Read the article linked above if you want more details.

I would also like to add a few suggestions of my own.

Dear CBSA,

I am so happy that we as an agency are finally getting on board. I have felt like we were really missing out on another medium or opportunity to engage Canada and Canadians in a positive, efficient, and effective way.

I would like to respectfully make a few suggestions that I hope you will consider in the undertaking of this project.

1. “It’s a Dialogue” – With Social media, it should be a conversation. This means that it shouldn’t be one way only. The past federal election was perfect example of how not to use social media. There is no point on tweeting if you aren’t going to reply to anyone. Respond to people…even if its “feel free to contact us via email to discuss this issue further” ( and then actually get back to people in a timely manner)

2. “Be Authentic” – Try and be open and genuine. Don’t be afraid to be human…that’s what we all are…don’t try and censor what you say so much that you might as well not be saying anything…people understand people make mistakes. No one wants to connect or can really connect with someone that isn’t real or authentic. It’s not the quantity of the engagement but the depth of the engagement that matters.

3. Create a Customs Wiki that officers can access through a secure portal outside of work and allow certain knowledgeable officers to create content during work hours. Start with some accommodated officers perhaps. We are losing many seasoned knowledgeable officers to retirement and I predict a brain drain if we do not act quickly. I am seriously concerned about this.

4. Its all about the interaction – engage, engage, engage. Many people are frustrated with Customs. It’s all over Twitter and the internet. Talk to them, and hear them out; listen. Explain the process. Educate, help them understand why we do what we do.

As final note, I would like to say that “Not having Social media is better than having bad Social media”. Please keep that in mind. It’s kind of like espousing Client Service but not actually providing service to Clients. So if you don’t plan on being social…don’t do it at all. My 2 cents.