A shooting occurred in broad-daylight in the Public Market Parking lot on Friday, May 17th in case you didn’t hear or read about it. Chances are you didn’t hear or read about it because no mainstream press agencies picked up on this story. Shootings are rare in Emeryville, so the fact that not a single mention of it was made on SF Gate, Inside Bay Area or any of the local network sites tells me that Emeryville is not getting the press exposure it needs or deserves. Compounding this is the Emeryville’s PD’s “tight-lipped” approach to disseminating information. Is the EPD more interested in preserving the slipping reputation of safety that Emeryville has than communicating potential risks to its residents and visitors … or did they truly not want to compromise an ongoing investigation? Maybe someday, Emeryville will have its own “legitimate” news-source but for now, it’s up to our collection of micro-blogs, social networks and 10,000 neighbors to distribute news about our city … the news that the city doesn’t want to talk about.
A member of The E’ville Eye Facebook community first inquired about the incident after noticing “large amount of police tape up in front of In-Shape gym, along with one of their giant windows shattered. The urgent care place also had a note up saying they were closed until Monday following the events on Friday”. An In-Shape employee that I spoke with over the phone knew nothing about the incident and even told me that she was told the broken window was already cracked and somehow shattered on its own (She did advise me that the EPD had been in contact with them about a series of Car Break-ins to patrons of the adjacent Emery-Bay Theater which I was not aware of). Another employee gave me a very direct “No-Comment” statement when I pressed her. The manager I spoke with referred me to his District manager whom did not return my call.
Extensive Google searches, Alerts and trolling Twitter didn’t get me any closer to finding any details (although I did get a reply back from Oakland Tribune Staff reporter Matthew Artz?).
Eventually I came across a single tweet from a user that witnessed the incident.
The Online Crime Blotter that the Emeryville Police uses makes no mention of this incident and their own statistical reports are two months behind. Initial inquiries with the EPD yielding little information except the acknowledgment that there was in fact an incident there. When I pressed the EPD that “the public had the right to know if there is a suspect on the loose and if the public was at any risk” (and cc’d the entire city council), the EPD recanted and provided the following information: “The robbery/shooting occurred on May 17th, 1:50 PM near In-Shape 6005 Shellmound St. There were three male suspects involved. No one is in custody at this time.” And the condition of the victim? “I can tell you about the shooting is that the victim is alive and the case is moving forward.” In-Shape apparently was not directly involved with the incident and the shattered window that you see above was the result of a “stray bullet”.
It was a frustrating ordeal to extract this bit of info and maybe someone who knows more about policing than me can explain how withholding these vague details could ever be beneficial to an investigation. Was it a media “Black-out” … or was this an attempt to preserve the reputation of safety that Emeryville is clinging to? This is pure speculation on my part but its my only theory that would explain my thwarted attempt to get objective information about the story. Crime is E’ville’s “dirty little secret” that isn’t so secret anymore after we were exposed as having the highest violent crime rate in the Bay Area by the FBI. Is Emeryville’s efforts to whitewash the element of crime in our city an attempt to protect these business establishments? Is preserving E’ville’s reputation a policing strategy that supersedes the public’s demand for police transparency?
Proactive Policing & Crime Prevention
Maybe I’m being too idealistic but I take the “knowledge is power” approach to my safety (as opposed to “ignorance is bliss”?). If there’s a rash of crime in a particular area, I want to know so I can take preemptive measures and be on-guard and not expose my family to unnecessary risk. If there’s a risk involved with visiting an establishment, I feel it is my right to know. We passed Megan’s law to notify us if there were registered Sex-offenders living amongst us, are we not entitled to know about what areas of our town are prone to violent crime? In 2010, I was personally robbed at gun-point for my iPhone as part of a string of Robberies. It wasn’t until April of 2012 (nearly 2 years later) that a community advisory for iPhone robberies was issued. How many thefts could have been averted if this pattern had been identified earlier and an alert had been issued to a broader audience? The Powell Street Pedestrian Bridge wasn’t exposed as having poor visibility and dangerous until former council member Ken Bukowski was assaulted there. It is only now that the city is scrambling to renovate the area and has formed an Ad-Hoc committee to make recommendations on improvements. These examples lead me to assess that these crimes are not being dealt with in a proactive manner. Is the EPD reluctant to integrate this level of transparency, or do they not have the resources to support it?
Is Social Media the new “Neighborhood Watch”?
If the intent is really to “get more eyes on the street”, then having a social media presence can accomplish this rapidly. There’s even an annual conference specific to connecting Police Departments and Social Media called SMILE (Social Media, the Internet and Law Enforcement). Some agencies have identified the direction of Law Enforcement through Social Media and embraced it. There’s even a dedicated site called ConnectedCOPS.net that deals specifically with issues pertaining to the Police and Social Media. In fact, a recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police of 728 police departments around the country showed that 81% of them used social media for investigations. The site PoliceOne.com recently published this article that outlined the community benefits of having a social media presence:
- Building a trustworthy relationship and a sense of community by engaging with each other
- Gaining control over the department’s reputation with the community
- Providing a forum for people to ask questions and for you to share tips you otherwise wouldn’t share
- Spread knowledge quickly and with minimal effort that could protect your community, help catch suspects, find missing persons, etc.
The EPD seems open to integrating more social media from conversations I’ve had and they’ve “dipped into the shallow end” of the social media pool by creating a Facebook page, although at barely 100 likes, it doesn’t seem to be promoted or used optimally. Facebook alone cannot be the sole solution because of its proprietary nature and concerns over privacy. Twitter offers a bit more anonymity and the information can be viewed without actually registering. Police Departments need to formulate an entire Social Media Policy and commit to it to be successful AND they need to commit the resources to moderate it. Effective use of social media can even achieve cost savings and better resource deployment.
In a 2011 article on the Berkelyside Independent News Site titled “Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page?“, Berkeley PD Spokes-person Mary Kay Clunies-Ross notes “Social media opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for communicating with the public which is incredibly exciting, but it does present certain challenges.”. While Berkeley still does not have a Facebook page (They’ve never had a reputation of being speedy), Berkeleyside does a fantastic job of posting a weekly crime summary.
Other forms of Social Media outreach that have been effective include Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and the new Private Social Network, Nextdoor.com that required address verification or a referral to join. So far, my invitation to the EPD to join E’ville’s Nextdoor.com community has not been accepted although they have expressed interest and are “waiting for permission from the command staff.” (Even the “cash-strapped” OPD has a semi-monitored Twitter-feed). The Boston PD’s use of social media was widely credited with assisting in their manhunt for the Marathon Bombers. For an example of social Media done right, check out the beautiful Milwaukee Police Desktop Site or this list of the 50 Most Social Media Friendly Police Departments in America’s Largest Cities.
How Emeryville could benefit from a greater Social Media Presence
Disaster Management, Amber Alerts, Traffic advisories, Missing persons, Crime Alerts, Suspect Details: All of these can benefit by the instant communication that these services provide. One report that I read declared that Twitter has basically replaced the police scanner for civilians. Social media can also reveal to law enforcement what information needs to be disseminated and when. Conversely, the police can incorporate updates from the media or citizen journalists to get a clearer picture of what is happening in places where they don’t yet have officers on the ground.
It’s not my intent to slander the EPD, they have a stellar reputation of response and every officer I’ve spoken with has been helpful & compassionate. Emeryville’s issues with transparency are fixable if they want to fix them. Greater transparency I believe will lead to greater accountability and ultimately a broader discourse amongst residents. If there’s ever an opportunity for the EPD to announce its presence on Social Media, Can I recommend the upcoming “National Night Out” on Tuesday, August 6th? Instituting a Social Media policy is more difficult in larger cities, but Emeryville’s 1.2 sq. mile/10K+ residents, doing so and monitoring should not be a burden. If Emeryville wants to truly earn the self-designated honor as being “The Most Connected City in the USA“, then they need to have a “connected” Police Force.
What do you think?