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article imageHow Constable Scott Mills's social media work protects Toronto Special

By KJ Mullins     Sep 16, 2010 in Crime
Toronto - The use of Facebook and Twitter has made a huge impact in crime fighting in Toronto, so big in fact that the 'bad guys' know it and want it shut down. On Wednesday someone posted extremely inappropriate material to the Facebook page for the TPS.
At the time of the post, Constable Scott Mills, the man behind the scenes, was at a funeral. He came back to work to discover that the photos, which were of graphic, brutal and pornographic matters. They had been posted to the page by someone with a bogus account. Toronto Police Intel discovered the photos but not before they had been on the page for a few hours. Because of that person's actions the page no longer allows for photos and video to be posted by the public. That move was a hard one for Mills.
Constable Mills is one of the nicest men you will ever talk to. His dedication to serving the people of Toronto is non-stop. Scott works with the Public Information Unit. The unit is behind the press releases that journalists use to begin their reports on crime in the city. The unit is also behind the department's social media networking. For the past six years Scott has been the key player for that part of the work.
Six years ago Mills teamed up with Crime Stoppers. The move was a bold one for the police and for Mills personally. If Crime Stoppers didn't work out online then it would be unlikely for the Toronto Police to move into the social media age. While the program partners with the police it is not part of the Toronto Police Service. Crime stoppers is a group of concerned citizen volunteers serve on the Board of Directors to oversee the Toronto Crime Stoppers program. The TPS provides them a coordinator to manage the day-to-day operations and talks the program School Crime Stoppers but that's their limit. The program celebrated their 25th year in Toronto in 2010.
He posted the first video on YouTube in April 2007 launching a new way for the site to connect with the public. From YouTube came a page on Facebook to a Twitter account and a presence on Vibe.TO.
Mills efforts paid off. In 2009 there were a record number of tips that lead to arrests. One-third of the more than 10,300 tips were drug-related.
By 2010 Toronto Police had a good view of what social media networking could be doing for the city. Mills left Crime stoppers in April right before the G20 Summit to become the Social Media Officer for TPS.
While the tips on crimes is invaluable to the police it's the stories that don't get in the media because they never happened that are most telling of the use of the program.
"Since I started with Crime stoppers I can say that we have stopped crimes from taking place. Two school shooting didn't happen because of the tips we received and countless teenagers didn't commit suicide because we were alerted through social media networking."
Getting those tips in takes a lot of work. It's more than the 40 hours that Mills is paid for. He works hard, often in the background because he knows that the program is making the streets of Toronto safer.
"I sleep better at night because of this work. It's very productive and very time consuming.The possibilities of how to use social media in policing are endless, it's a huge tool. The TPS is putting a lot of faith into this program."
Media relation officers are joining in on Twitter. Millers praised the work of Constable Tim Burrows of the Traffic Unit's work and that of the TAVIS Unit and other media relations constables. Still work needs to be need to add to the program. Social media networking takes a special skill set to have it run as an effective program. Mills is the expert for Toronto.
The top brass are watching and reading. During the G20 messages were read and answers relayed back to the public by Toronto decision makers.
The criminals are watching too. They see a tool that is working and they are not happy about it.
"The haters come on hard because the good people are using it. They are extremely threatened by social media."
Yesterday's posting of graphic images is one way the bad guys are fighting back at the system.
"This was over the top. It's causing me a lot of stress because of those who are the "I told you it won't work" group see this action. The value though of using social media far outweighs the negatives. What this incident showed was that more staff is needed. In the end the bad guys will not win, they can't win. This incident will only make us smarter and get more staff to fight back."
It's not uncommon for posts to be negative, after the G20 many critics posted on the Facebook page to show their anger at the police. Those posts remained on the site along with the more positive posts. Mills announcement that videos and photos are not being allowed without calling him ahead of time does not stop posting comments.
The poster of the photos was a new name to the page. Mills hopes that he will be held accountable for his actions but realizes that it will be difficult to find him. He or she used a bogus account.
We are on the cusp of a new way to protect the public. Toronto can sleep better at night because of the hard work that Constable Scott Mills puts into social media.
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