“We Are More Than Crime Fighters”: Social Media Images of Police Departments

AuthorKourtnie Rodgers,Nicholas P. Lovrich,Xiaochen Hu
Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
“We Are More Than
Crime Fighters”: Social
Media Images of Police
Xiaochen Hu
, Kourtnie Rodgers
and Nicholas P. Lovrich
Currently, about 96% of U.S. police departments have adopted social media, nearly
94% of which have implemented Facebook. Unfortunately, researchers have not paid
much attention to police use of social media. The study serving as the basis for this
article entails a careful analysis of 14 of the most popular police Facebook pages and
analyzes posts during a 1-year period. The study documents 5 major themes and 24
noteworthy subthemes, and then applies a two-step cluster analysis to identify four
principal types of police Facebook social images: crime fighter, traditional cop, public
relations facilitator, and mixer. The well-established diffusion of innovations literature
is employed to provide justification for the timeliness of the study, and the work of
Rogers and subsequent scholars building upon it serves as the principal theoretical
framework for this study. Public policy implications for policing are discussed, along
with appropriate directions for further research.
police, Facebook, typology, mixed methods analysis, diffusion of innovations
Department of Criminal Justice, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, NC, USA
School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Xiaochen Hu, Department of Criminal Justice, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, NC, USA.
Email: xhu@uncfsu.edu
Police Quarterly
2018, Vol. 21(4) 544–572
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611118783991
Social media use by police departments is now widespread in the United States
(Lieberman, Koetzle, & Sakiyama, 2013). The International Association of
Chiefs of Police (IACP) created the IACP Center for Social Media in October
2010 to help police departments make effective use of social media by providing
multiple resources, tools, and a compilation of applicable research via their
official website (http://www.iacpsocialmedia.org/). The IACP has conducted
surveys focused on police use of social media annually since 2010. The organi-
zation sends these surveys electronically to law enforcement executives across
the United States (IACP Center for Social Media, 2010). Currently, about 96%
of municipal, county, and state police departments in the United States have
adopted social media (IACP, 2015). About 94% of U.S. law enforcement agen-
cies have implemented Facebook (IACP, 2015).
Founded in 2004, FacebookV
Rhas become one of the largest social networking
sites in the world. As of June 30, 2015, the organization reported there are 1.49
billion monthly active users and 1.31 billion monthly mobile active users
(Company Info, 2015). Facebook allows users to do a variety of social media
activities, including but not limited to chatting, messaging, making voice calls,
making video calls, uploading photos and videos, making comments, following
the activities and posts of others, reacting to posts with a single click, hyper-
linking other websites, and live streaming. Facebook has been studied by mul-
tiple social science disciplines including psychology (e.g., Rae, Lonborg,
Steward, & Turel, 2015; Roche, Jenkins, Aguerrevere, Kietlinski, & Prichard,
2015), sociology (e.g., Mai, Freudenthaler, Schneider, & Vorderer, 2015;
Pribeanu, Balog, Lamanauskas, & Slekiene, 2015), education (e.g.,
Androutsopoulos, 2015; Miron & Ravid, 2015), and political science (e.g.,
Miller, Bobkowski, Maliniak, & Rapoport, 2015; Sveningsson, 2014).
In the field of criminal justice, however, academic researchers have paid very
little attention to police use of social media. A number of scholars have reported
on the results of content analyses of police agencies’ social media posts (see
Crump, 2011; Heverin & Zach, 2010; Lieberman et al., 2013; Procter, Crump,
Karstedt, Voss, & Cantijoch, 2013). While these pioneering studies have pro-
vided vital descriptive information as is required for foundational groundwork,
they are somewhat lacking in the area of theory-informed analytical information
and broader conceptualization of social dynamics. The current study involves 14
police departments in the United States based on the most Facebook “likes”
received and applies a grounded theory approach to analyze 7,153 police
Facebook posts using a two-step cluster analysis to explore police departments’
practices in the design and placement of Facebook posts. The well-established
theory of diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2003) is employed to provide justi-
fication for the timeliness and areas of focus of the study, and it serves as the
principal theoretical framework as well for understanding how the innovation
Hu et al. 545

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