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Electronic Communications Triage Unit (SHB eComm)
On September 1, 2012, Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau created the first new unit at the Bureau in over 50 years: The Electronic Communications Triage Unit (eComm). The mission of the eComm unit is to listen to, to train on the use of, and to conduct research about electronic and web-based communications. Utilizing a strategic listening process, the eComm unit uses the Internet to locate any activity of a criminal nature, or activity that will elicit a large police response, while as an agency, providing the public the ability to exercise their rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The eComm unit also shares information with the public that will help keep the communities throughout Los Angeles County safe through the use the Department's web sites and social media platforms. Currently, the Department's main Facebook page boasts over 10,900 'likes' and a weekly reach of over 2 million people. The Department's Twitter account has over 13,000 followers. Both fan bases are growing every day. Between May 2012 and May 2013, the Department's official website, www.lasd.org, logged over 1.6 Million unique visitors and over 3 million hits.
Currently, the eComm unit consists of one sergeant, two bonus deputies and five law enforcement technicians, known as "Social Media Dispatchers". The Social Media Dispatchers work around the clock, seven days a week, using publicly available web applications and news aggregators to search websites for information. In the last four months of 2012, the Social Media Dispatchers' logged over 450 incidents. These incidents included everything from illegal parties advertising illicit drugs to assaults and arsonists. Witnesses to shootings have been identified; suicides intervened; and the public has been able to safely exercise their right to protest through effective pre-planning by Department personnel.
The deputies assigned to the eComm unit are responsible for both the supervision of the Social Media Dispatchers, as well as training Department members in the safe use of social media, how to write news releases, and how to maintain personal security on the internet. The Deputies also develop policy, write newsletters and other publications to help Department members negotiate the perils and pitfalls of social media.
In fulfillment of the eComm mission, the deputies of the eComm unit have developed search algorithms which yield a concise newsfeed of information about the LASD, which upon further refinement, can be distributed to members and executives so they can see the hard work and accomplishments of LASD personnel. These newsfeeds can also be customized for particular units and stations within the Department. Other searches can yield information about upcoming crimes.
Due to the increasing trend in emergency management to utilize social media as a means of quickly pushing information to citizens in need, the eComm unit has been configured to work as a social media Emergency Operations Center in cases of extreme emergency. Under a unified command, the LASD, LAPD and LA Fire agencies used this concept successfully during a serial arsonist's incident in 2012. The "LA Arson Watch" Facebook page became the source of information and a repository for leads and intelligence from the community. In the future, look for eComm to be integrated in the Incident Management Teams (IMT) as part of the Public Information Officer's section to inform the public about an incident.
Although the eComm unit is in its' infancy, the proliferation of social media and the benefits to law enforcement and the community are clear. With several incidents successfully triaged already, the eComm unit looks forward to more successes and partnerships within the Department and the online communities of Los Angeles County.
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