How the Victoria Police Department Increased Their Eyes and Ears 20x by Releasing a Mobile App
The Victoria Police Department (VicPD) is the oldest Canadian police force west of the Great Lakes and is an international leader in social media and community engagement. Founded in 1858, VicPD is responsible for policing the core area of the capital city of British Columbia. In 2010, VicPD become one of the first Canadian law enforcement agencies to embrace social media, and in 2013, VicPD became the first agency in Canada to release a community focused mobile app. VicPD has over 18 social media channels and in many ways has created the blueprint that other agencies follow to effectively use social media to connect with their community.
While the population that VicPD serves is approximately 100,000, on any given day the city population can rise to over 400,000. In addition, Victoria is home to a young, tech savvy and connected community. Starting in 2010 after the Vancouver Olympics, VicPD saw an opportunity to better connect and engage with their community by utilizing social media. A major player in ViCPD’s community engagement strategy has been Bowen Osoko, VicPD’s Communication Coordinator. Early on, Mr. Osoko and his colleagues noticed that a change had occurred in law enforcement as the community was far more connected than they were. If something happened in Victoria, citizens would immediately put information online and share it with their friends. VicPD realized they needed to be able to deliver services to the community in a manner that the community increasingly relates to and is conversant in.
In 2012, VicPD wanted to further their engagement strategy by finding a solution that would cut through all the noise of social media and directly alert their community in the event of an emergency. In doing their research, they identified a mobile application as a primary solution. VicPD first looked into how many people in their community could potentially download an app and they saw that 1 out of every 2 people in their community had an iPhone or Android device.
In 2013, VicPD was the first agency in Canada to release a branded mobile application for their community that, most importantly, allowed VicPD to send out real-time alerts to their citizens. While many agencies would see inherent risk in being the first agency to embrace a new technology, VicPD saw it a different way. Victoria is located in an earthquake zone, and they did not want to be an agency that didn’t want to talk about emergency management until after an emergency had already happened. VicPD asked an important question: What’s the cost of not being able to inform people? “To me, the cost of developing an app and taking the risk of being the first was really offset by our sacred duty to protect the public. The cost in blood and treasure in not taking the risk was too great for me to bare. It wasn’t a matter of why should we do it, it was a matter of how could we not” says Osoko.
Prior to launching their mobile app, VicPD identified what success would look like. “If we hit 5% of the people that could potentially download the app, we would be pretty happy. If we hit 10%, we’d be very happy.” In addition, Osoko stressed: “If it has returned just one missing person, it has paid for itself. If one other agency saw what we did, and they adopted a mobile app for themselves, and they find a missing child, or resolved one assault where they got a witness, that’s enough for me.”
To date, the VicPD mobile app has been downloaded over 12,000 times, which is just over 1 out of every 5 people that could download the app in Victoria, or looking at it another way, about every household. One of the most effective tools of the mobile app has been the Alert feature. Specifically, VicPD has successfully used this feature to find several missing people. With their social media, VicPD reaches a population many times larger than the total population they serve, but what the app does is allow VicPD to target over 10,000 people that are really invested in what they do and are actively interested in helping VicPD keep their community safe. “We’ve had lots of success with that, where people have opened up the alert and found the person” says Osoko. Recently, VicPD sent out an alert about a missing person, who was missing overnight, and an Officer happened to have the VicPD app installed on her device and saw the alert. Minutes later she saw the missing person while she was driving to her next call.
What the mobile app has been able to achieve for VicPD is in essence crowdsourcing the community’s help to increase public safety. VicPD has 243 sworn members. All in all, their organization is about 400 in total size. “We increase our eyes and ears, people who could be out looking for a missing person, by 20x, simply by having the app. That’s something that works really well for us. That’s something that is important to us” says Osoko. In addition, the costs of policing are high. The minimum costs when VicPD investigates a call is $50/hour. That’s the cost to the city for a cop showing up.
“When we have 11,000 eyes and ears out looking for someone that is missing, that is a force multiplier.” - Bowen Osoko
Advice for other Agencies
One of the reasons VicPD has been so successful with their social media strategy is their perspective on social media. “People worry too much about the media in social media, but forget the social part, which is the most important when it comes to what police departments are about at their core” says Osoko. “In policing, it’s important to do the right thing, but it’s also important to be seen doing the right thing. If people do not see you doing the right thing, then they don’t know they can count on you.”
If you look back to Sir Robert Peel’s principles regarding community policing, there is now an opportunity to take a very old school approach to being part of your community, and bring it to light using modern technology. Peel’s principles boil down to: you can trust people you know. People should know the cop, and the cop should know them. “We’re part of a community, and we use all these tools to maintain ongoing conversations with our community. It helps us be present, and there is nothing like presence in law enforcement. It is the first level of use of force. It is the first step in solving a problem. And it is what people want from us most, which is to show up. It helps us show up in a way that is effective for us and helps keep people safe, but also helps us be seen, which means it helps us be trusted. That’s the thing that I think is most important. This is the digital version of a cop on every corner.” says Osoko.
Ready to Take The Next Step?
Schedule a personalized web demo and see how MobilePD can increase community engagement, prevent crime, and save lives.