Strong interest in BU prof’s studies of social media and the police

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Photo of Christopher J. Schneider
Christopher J. Schneider’s fourth book, Policing and Social Media, was released on April 16. (Tiffany Green)

Police departments have a whole new beat to patrol, thanks to the rise of Facebook, Twitter and the like.

BU sociology professor Christopher Schneider has a new book on the phenomenon, “Policing and Social Media,” which includes examples from the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot, the Toronto Police Service’s innovative social media strategy, and the YouTube video that brought worldwide attention to the fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim by Toronto police officer James Forcillo.

Schneider was regularly quoted in Toronto media during Forcillo’s trial. Now, he’s fielding calls from around the globe, as news reporters track him down for comment on alleged police misbehaviour that’s caught on camera and uploaded online.

“What constitutes police brutality or misconduct is a matter of interpretation, and until now that was left up to the police departments and the top brass,” Schneider told Agence France-Presse in an article about two recent police shootings in the United States. “One of the biggest challenges to police agencies is that they need to regain control of public perceptions… We need to believe that the police are the good guys.” (en français)

Meanwhile, a video clip from Calgary is drawing criticism here in Canada, with official police accounts of the arrest differing from witness versions.

“Police services are struggling to gain control of the crime narrative,” Schneider told VICE.

However, there’s also lots to “like” for police on social media.

The Toronto Police Service, inspired by the super-popular crime podcast Serial, recently cracked a cold case with help from Twitter tips.

“We’re going to see more of this, because it greatly expands the channels of information and data that can be quickly shared, across and beyond the boundaries of traditional media,” Schneider told the Toronto Star about that case.

The crowdsourcing approach foreshadows other changes to policing, with Schneider expecting that police in the future will use data analysis to solve and even predict crime.

“It’s going to be much more community-oriented than it currently is, through the Internet, through social media,” Schneider told the Star this spring. “This is going to expand the gaze, as it were, toward crime and deviance.”


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