In 2014, social media strategist Yael Bar tur took on one of the most significant projects in her career, when she was hired to revamp the public image of the New York Police Department. A year before, a federal judge had ruled the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program was unconstitutional. For six years, Yael worked with the NYPD, weathering PR crises, building trust between civilians and law enforcement, and helping each city precinct develop its unique voice. Today, she sits down with Dan and Dave to talk about why every police department in the country should have a social media strategy and know how to respond when violence goes viral. How did she convince curmudgeonly cops to log into Twitter?Read Transcript
Dan: [00:00:04] In police stations across the country, officers start their shifts in The Briefing Room.
Dave: [00:00:10] It’s a place where law enforcement can speak openly and candidly about safety, training, policy, crime trends, and more.
Dan: [00:00:17] We think it’s time to invite you in.
Dave: [00:00:19] So, pull up a chair.
Dan and Dave: [00:00:21] Welcome to The Briefing Room.[The Briefing Room theme playing]
Dan: [00:00:37] Today on The Briefing Room, a video goes viral, tempers flare, and images of policing are tarnished. Public backlash against a single officer, a department, or an entire profession can blur the reality of what law enforcement officers are expected to do, be, and represent on a daily basis.
[00:00:57] Yael Bar Tur is a social media consultant who’s helped organizations tell their stories for over two decades. One of those organizations is the New York City Police Department. For six years, starting in 2014, Yael worked as the NYPD’s Director of Social Media and Digital Strategy. As trust in law enforcement was at an all-time low, Yael was charged with not only managing PR crises, but also with using social media to help foster positive relationships between law enforcement and New Yorkers, a massive undertaking.
[00:01:31] Today, she’ll tell us about the highs and lows she faced while working with the NYPD at their headquarters, One Police Plaza. She’ll also give us insight into how social media can be used for good, to build positive relationships between officers and the communities they serve. Yael, welcome to The Briefing Room.
Yael: [00:01:49] Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.
Dan: [00:01:51] I’m Detective Dan, and this is my brother, Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:01:55] Happy to be here.
Dan: [00:01:57] So, Yael, I’ll just start with– That’s not a name I’ve heard every day in my life. [Yael laughs] Can you give us a little background where you’re from and how you got into your current situation?
Yael: [00:02:08] Sure. I am from Israel originally. I was born and raised there. Came to the US in 2007 to pursue the American dream like a lot of people and have been here ever since. And by the way, I was one of three Ls in the entire NYPD, which I think says more about the size of the NYPD than anything else.
Dan: [00:02:26] How many sworn at NYPD?
Yael: [00:02:29] So, when I was there, we had, I think, 36,000 sworn and 15,000 civilian, what I guess most agencies call non-sworn. I was a civilian. And now I think, I don’t know what the civilian number is, but I know the sworn number is a lot lower, probably around 34,000. Because NYPD, like, every city right now, is facing a bit of a hiring crisis.
Dave: [00:02:52] Indeed they are.
Dan: [00:02:54] Yes, absolutely. I think every police department in the United States is going through the same thing right now. It’s been a rough few years. So, you moved here in 2007 to the United States.
Yael: [00:03:06] Mm-hmm.
Dan: [00:03:06] What was your background in Israel before you came to the United States? There’s mandatory service, correct?
Yael: [00:03:12] Yeah, I did my mandatory service. I was in the IDF spokesperson unit, so basically doing communications. I was put in a very sleepy office that was the Foreign Press Office, where nothing was going on. And about a week into my service, the Second Intifada started. This was 2000. It was basically a war, a violent uprising that began with the Palestinians in Israel and, of course, bled over to Israel’s other borders. So, we had journalists coming from all over the world, and us, a bunch of 18-year-olds taking CNN reporters around and not quite knowing what we were doing. It was definitely a trial by fire.
[00:03:49] After that, I got my BA in Israel, my undergraduate degree in government studies and counterterrorism. And then I came to the US. I wasn’t initially interested in policing. I was more interested in counterterrorism security studies. I got my master’s at the Kennedy School with a focus on international relations, but I realized it would be hard for me because I wasn’t an American citizen to get the security clearance. I had met a few NYPD officers that actually went with me to the Kennedy School, and they asked me, “Would you like to do an internship?” And I was like, “Yeah. I love law and order.” [Dave laughs] Everybody around the world knows the NYPD, right? It’s so cool. I did my internship there in 2011 and that was the beginning of that love story.
Dave: [00:04:36] As an Israeli citizen, what was your perception prior to your arrival here about what America was, what police was?
Yael: [00:04:45] So, America, when I was growing up, I grew up in the 1990s, and I was fed a very steady diet of American pop culture, which I love to this day. It taught me everything. I think that’s true of a lot of people. I met a lot of police officers in New York, a ton of foreign-born police officers, a lot of immigrants. And a lot of them, they saw the NYPD on TV before anything else. I think there’s a reason a lot of people from all over the world want to come here.
Dan: [00:05:12] How do you turn an internship at NYPD into a full paying job?
Yael: [00:05:17] Oh, my gosh, relentlessness, arrogance a little bit. [laughs] So, I did my internship there. I was a master’s student at that time in 2011 and NYPD didn’t really have a social media presence. When I went back to school my second year, I offered them to do a graduate thesis. That was kind of the model that we had at the Kennedy School is we would pick a client and build them something. I said, “Hey. Why don’t–? I, together with classmate of mine, “Let us build you a social media strategy.” And they were like, “No, we’re good. We don’t need that.” Kind of kept asking and begging, and finally they’re like, “Okay, come, write your little paper.”
[00:06:02] I did that. It was really, really fun. Got to go back and forth from Boston to New York and really get a good insight into what the NYPD needs and what they’re doing. Wrote that paper and then eventually got hired under Commissioner Zach Tumin, who helped me with the paper at the time. So, there was a new administration coming in, this was 2014, under Bill Bratton and it was a huge earthquake in the NYPD because the previous administration wanted nothing to do with digital communications and outreach. Bill Bratton came in and he brought a different style of policing with him that’s a little more open to trial and error, let’s say, or open to trying new things that aren’t necessarily proven. So, I think I got very lucky in that sense.
Dave: [00:06:51] I imagine knowing cops as I do, and you having experience with them, the stiff arm and the standoffishness is not surprising to me. Were there moments where you’re trying to beat your head through the brick wall going, “Why can’t they just understand the value here”?
Yael: [00:07:10] Yeah, of course they were. I love working with cops. I think that’s why I fell in love with the organization. I think I have a bit of a dark sense of humor, which translates well there.
Dan: [00:07:22] Yeah, the dark sense of humor, actually, it’s a way that we in law enforcement release all the pressure from all the horrible things we see. And it tells command staff and the people that you’re around that you get it.
Yael: [00:07:35] Yeah. I like to poke fun at people, and the NYPD, they say if they’re not making fun of you, they don’t like you. So, once I knew people were ripping on me– I went on vacation. When I came back, my desk was covered with all kinds of memes. Then I knew I was in. But yeah, it was hard to sell. We went from 0 to 100 at the NYPD. So, we went from nothing to launching– This was based on thesis that I wrote, launching a localized digital strategy. So, we have 77 precincts in the city and we gave everyone a Twitter account over the course of a few months.
[00:08:12] This is a department where before that, if you were seen tossing around a football with a kid and somebody caught that on camera, you would get in trouble. And now know person from Harvard is coming in and be like, “Hey, everybody’s getting Twitter.” So, I think part of the reason it worked so well is because we had really good leadership under Bill Bratton, who was very, very open to this. This is more of a personal opinion, but I think some of it is being young and being more willing to take risks.
Dan: [00:08:42] Yeah. So, each one of these precincts has a Twitter page. Who is basically curating that content for each precinct?
Yael: [00:08:51] So, they have a Twitter and they have Facebook pages now as well. The person curating it, at first, we had it be the commanding officer, because it’s a very important thing, and we don’t want them to mess it up. But then we realized that doesn’t work for everyone. We had some commanding officers who are really good at and loved it, and some of them are like, “Just give me a fucking break. I took five shootings. I’m not going to tweet about a kitten now.”
Dave: [00:09:13] There’s some validity to that as well.
Yael: [00:09:15] Completely understandable. The last thing I wanted to do was, we tend to CompStat everything in New York. So, CompStat is something that I think started NYPD, but a lot of police departments do it, a lot of public service organizations do it, where every week they meet and they look at the data, and everything’s very measured. Like, how many assaults did you have this week? Where are you deploying your detectives? It’s really considered one of the reasons that drove crime down and changed policing. But I didn’t want to CompStat social media. There was a push for that and I pushed back. I didn’t want to send them every week a report and be like, “Your tweets are down 25% and you lost three followers.”
[00:10:00] Because the thing with cops, I think [giggles] you would agree that once you tell them to check a box, they’ll check that box, and that’s it. I wanted them to like this. I wanted them to understand why it’s important. My goal was to make their life easier at the end of the day. I said, like, “If you’re doing social media, right, your job should be easier, not harder.” So, we told every commanding officer, “You pick your guy. It could be your driver, it could be your crime prevention officer, it can be your lieutenant. But you know best. We don’t want to tell you from One Police Plaza who should do this. Pick one or two people. We’ll train them.” That’s the only thing we said, like, we need to train them, we need to know who they are, they need to go through us. But you pick them and then we designated them a digital communications officer, which I think we were maybe the only police department to have that designation.
Dave: [00:10:54] You’ve touched on right at the end, the training aspect about having to train folks. I’m relating some of the folks that I used to work with, and I’d be like, “Oh, I’d be okay with him having a phone and a Twitter account?” “That person, absolutely not. [Yael laughs] I don’t want them in charge of any messaging.” I imagine you’ve got to really know your personnel, their strengths and weaknesses, and really position your folks to be successful because one poorly crafted message can blow up the whole department.
Yael: [00:11:29] Yeah. There were times at our peak where we were putting out about 200 tweets a day from all of our accounts. So, a few things go into that. You’re absolutely right. I think one of the things was, if you really don’t want to do this, I don’t want you to– Like, don’t force the guy who hates this. The other thing is we would tell people, it’s not your tech guy. It’s not your– And I say guy, obviously, I mean, guy and girl interchangeably. But it’s not necessarily your computer person. It’s the person who can talk. It’s the person who is more community oriented. We can teach them just like you can teach an officer how to handle a firearm. You can teach them how to handle a Twitter account. Some of our best accounts were people who didn’t have any experience with it before, but they were good at talking to people.
Dave: [00:12:17] That’s not shocking at all. [laughs]
Dan: [00:12:35] So, I think one of the great tools of social media is building a little bit of trust between the police department and the citizens out there who are being policed, hopefully, gently. I think most citizens out there don’t have a clue about what police culture is. Did you see social media as a tool to maybe give you a glimpse through the window of what police culture is in America?
Yael: [00:12:58] Yeah, 100%. Whenever somebody would tell me– One of our digital communications officers would say, “I don’t have anything to post about,” or “I can’t come up with content,” I say like, “You have to remember that everything you do is interesting. You do roll call, it’s interesting. You clean your locker, it’s interesting.” There’s content there that people don’t know about. You’re going up to the detective squad to talk to them about something, that’s interesting. I think sometimes police officers forget that they tend to be very insular and they forget that people on the outside don’t know.
[00:13:34] I give this example of you walk into a Starbucks or a coffee shop in uniform. What happens around you? Everybody stops what they’re doing. I’m like, “Oh, why are the cops here?” Everybody is interested in what you do. I forget who told me the story once. Somebody once said that they were taking money out of an ATM and there’s a guy behind them and he was laughing, and he was like, “I’ve never seen a cop in an ATM before.” So, it is very interesting. There’s content in everything you do. I think people love knowing what a day in the life of a police officer looks like. I can’t stress this enough. It doesn’t always have to be the best arrest that you made. It doesn’t have to be the promotion ceremony, but nobody cares.
[00:14:15] Once you’re speaking behind a podium unless it’s an emergency, it’s less interesting than “Officer so and so was doing foot patrol today and ran into this neighborhood resident who’s been living here for 60 years and they both had a cup of coffee together.” That’s a lot more interesting and humanizes the officer and shows that they are part of the community they serve. It takes down that wall a little bit. And that happens every single day.
Dave: [00:14:42] We talk about viral incidents. I mean, the most noteworthy in recent years is George Floyd. Scenario wise and I hate to give you a hypothetical, but we could use that as an example. I know that you had left NYPD prior to George Floyd’s death, correct?
Yael: [00:14:59] Just a few months before. Yeah.
Dave: [00:15:00] Hypothetically, if that situation happened in New York– I know it impacted every city in the US. I worked plenty of protests myself. But if that type of viral incident happens where you’ve got a citizen who blasts out this video to show injustice, what are the steps that you’re going to do to alleviate the pressure around that situation?
Yael: [00:15:26] Yeah, that’s something we had to deal with very often. Not George Floyd situations, because I really haven’t seen in my career anything of that level. But we did see a lot of incidents of police action, sometimes justified, sometimes unjustified, in New York. I was there during Eric Garner, I was there during Michael Brown, even though that didn’t happen in New York, but that definitely affected public opinion.
[00:15:53] I think what’s important to remember is that, while the public sometimes sees all these names that I mentioned as part of the same process or part of the same structural problem, policing wise, these incidents could not be further apart. George Floyd, police officers that I know, even some of the really salty ones, looked at that and said like, “What the fuck is that guy doing?” about the cop.
Dave: [00:16:18] Right.
Yael: [00:16:19] You can’t compare that to an incident like Jacob Blake, where he was followed by a police officer to his car and shot by the police officer. There was also public outcry, but a lot of police officers said, “Was he going for a weapon?” And it turned out that he was. So, first of all, we need to get the facts. We need to know what happened here. And when it’s something where the police officer is completely at fault and just out of the blue, like, the George Floyd one, there really is nothing to do but bring out that information, say, this officer will be fired, punished, obviously go through trial, and this is not how we act. It’s much harder when it’s those gray area cases. What Commissioner Bratton would call awful, but lawful.
Dave: [00:17:07] Right.
Yael: [00:17:08] If you have to take down a suspect who’s resisting, it’s not pretty. You guys know that. I’ve never had to do that. I’m not sworn member of service, but we’ve all seen four officers or five officers struggle with 150-pound guy, because if you want to put up a fight and not get your hands in handcuffs, it’s going to be pretty difficult for officers to restrain you. So, it’s never pretty, it’s never clean, it’s not like in the movies. It’s our job to explain that. But I’ll say something maybe a little controversial.
[00:17:42] When an incident like that happens, that’s not when you’re going to build that public trust. You have to give out all the information. You have to be as transparent as you can as long as it doesn’t hurt an investigation. But in policing, you have to invest in the bank of public trust, because you’re going to withdraw from it from time to time. You’re going to have incidents, whether they’re completely justified or whether it’s just a cop acting like an asshole, right? Like, sometimes a cop acts like an asshole and yells at somebody and gets reprimanded, but it’s all over the news. Those incidents, you’re going to have to explain, you’re going to have to be forthcoming, but you’re not going to win people over then. You have to do that work every day.
Dave: [00:18:22] Right. I think back to some of the times that I worked where an officer does something that gets live streamed on Facebook or somewhere and you’re watching it going, “Why on Earth would he ever use those words? Why on Earth is this officer continuing to argue with this person when they know they’re being filmed?” You think about things like that and you talk about lawful but awful. I used to think about these situations and go, “Hey, this is something we could get out in front of.” I think some of the older guard in law enforcement was like, “Well, then that’s an admission of guilt, and then we have to worry about getting sued because now we’ve just admitted that we screwed up by addressing this in a social media post.”
[00:19:09] Those are huge obstacles to building trust, when you’re like, “No, actually, we can explain.” Yes, this officer didn’t approach this situation in an ideal way, but there’s no policy violation. Nobody’s rights were violated. It’s an argument. It just happens that one person has a badge and a gun and those incidents go viral.
Yael: [00:19:31] Yeah. And there’s a risk there. I think one of the most important things for me when I’m doing my training is acknowledging to people that there’s a risk. Sometimes people will say, “What if people say mean things to me?” Or, “What if I go viral?” And I was like, “I guarantee you that will happen.” But not being there is a lot worse. People think about social media as PR, but I think, Dan, you said it, well, that it’s more about building trust. I argue all the time that communications, public outreach is a core part of policing today. It’s not a nice to have, it’s something that should be discussed at the highest levels. If you don’t believe that, then ask yourself in your town, how many George Floyd protests did you have against your local police department?
[00:20:20] If you had protests against your local police department in Wichita, Kansas about something that happened in a different state, then you understand why social media is important and why it affects policing. You see it with recruitment and retention, you see it with the way people interact with police. You don’t have to like it, but you have to acknowledge that the reality has changed. We’re past the no-comment phase, right? We just can’t afford to be there. It sucks. [giggles] It’s not like, “Yay, everything’s modern and all the world is connected.” That’s like 2007 social media. But it is what it is and we’re losing every day that we’re not telling our story.
Dave: [00:21:18] The way these viral incidents grow is, it’s a virus. It completely explodes. I think that police in the past have done themselves quite a disservice by not just saying, “Hey, we’re still waiting for facts to come in, but initial review is these things.” It used to happen in police shootings all the time, where the chief would be on TV speaking directly to the people in the 6 o’clock news saying, “Our officer was put in a really dire and dangerous situation, responded, used his training and experience and survived.” More facts are going to come out in the days to come, but at this point, we’re worried about our officer. He’s safe and this person is in the hospital or this person did,” whatever. The facts will come out.
[00:22:10] But you have to address these things upfront before the other side gets the narrative going where they left out 10 facts, because you picked up a video in the middle of a resisting arrest and never picked up what caused that resisting arrest.
Yael: [00:22:26] Yeah. And you see it all the time. I see misinformation. I even wrote a piece about this misinformation about policing all the time to the point where you’re tearing your hair out and be like, “How could CNN run this?” Or, “How could this congressperson post this headline?” I can list so many of them. Just recently, there was the unarmed pregnant woman in Kansas City who was shot by police officers, where there is a photo of her aiming her gun, literally like a photo. And sometimes, you see a headline, Unarmed Pregnant Woman and then under that, you see the photo of her holding the gun and pointing it at the police officers.
[00:23:05] For some reason, with policing and this is more maybe about social media and the media today, but nuanced headlines are not going to get clicks. So, you get people riled up. It’s very easy to blame the police, because it’s a “victimless crime.” I say this ironically, but it’s not like they’re people, right? It’s not like they have morale and feelings about how they come to work every day.
[00:23:30] I’ve met thousands of police officer in my life. Some of them are the best people I know. Some of them are complete assholes. It’s just like everything else. But I guarantee you, none of them wakes up in the morning, puts on their uniform and says, “I hope I kill someone today.” But you still see that. Just the other day I saw a friend sent me in Yonkers, which is very close to here, a viral video that was shared by all these influencers of these cops harassing a little black child. They were just asking him questions and following him and wouldn’t let him leave.
[00:24:00] The comments were awful. It just went completely viral. They won’t leave this little kid alone. And of course, the Yonkers PD came out with the body camera footage and said, somebody called that one said this kid was lost, and he’s walking around alone, the officers were following home because they want to make sure he got home, right?
Dave: [00:24:18] Perspective. Yeah.
Yael: [00:24:20] Yeah. But also, it’s not always the big shooting. Sometimes it’s the most regular job, the most day to day job, like, a lost kid that could turn into, all of a sudden, these cops who are just doing their jobs are everywhere on social media. They’re being doxed, they’re being accused of being pedophiles. I don’t envy police officers for having all that attention turned to them. Obviously, there needs to be accountability. That’s why we have body cameras, but not like this.
Dave: [00:24:48] In years past, cops got the benefit of the doubt. Through our own fault, police have stepped on themselves many times over the years and not had the greatest social media strategy or crisis management strategies. We should accept that and acknowledge it and say, “Yeah, we have to get better.” The frustrating part is those instances are so exceptionally rare in the work that when they get the attention and you’re like, “Well, I mean, I did do these 10,000 other things really well. I made a mistake.” We do so many things from day to day that never get a picture taken that it’s frustrating that you don’t get the benefit of the doubt, like, “Oh, they must just all be out there abusing people’s rights.”
[00:25:40] It’s really important to have somebody who’s like, “No, here’s the actual truth and here’s the rest of the story. Here’s the rest of the video. If you have questions, contact us at whatever.” That kind of message backs up your officers who are out on the street.
Yael: [00:25:55] Yeah, and that’s a really important thing too, because I alluded to it earlier, but what it does to morale and how officers feel about their job is also something that’s almost impossible to measure. But it’s huge, because cops are also on social media and they also see the same videos and the same things, and they look at these officers and they say, “That could have been me.” That’s a really difficult problem. You see a lot of cops being really, really hands off now. I don’t know if you guys have seen this too.
Dave: [00:26:25] Absolutely. It’s the Ferguson effect.
Yael: [00:26:27] Yeah, I’ll give you an example. I was on a ride along a couple of years ago, and somebody called– Two post- I call them post George Floyd cops, right? They came after 2020. Super, super nice. They got a call for a woman who was suicidal. Somebody called and said, “My sister or somebody is suicidal. She lives here and here, and I haven’t heard from her,” like, a wellness check. And so, they go, they knock, and she doesn’t answer, and they knock, she doesn’t answer, and they leave. Because procedurally, that’s what you do. You don’t want to get sued, right? I don’t want to break her door and then I’ll get be a viral video, cops break the door. But back in the day, I’d like to think you guys would break down that door.
Dave: [00:27:12] If we had articulable facts that lent themselves to a determination that if someone’s a danger to themselves or others, we’re kicking the door in a 100%.
Yael: [00:27:22] You can argue that in court. You can argue why you didn’t or why you did kick the door in, but you can’t argue that if you’re a viral video, you can’t argue that if you get fired by your job, thrown under the bus to appease community outcry about something, which is also something we’ve seen. So, I don’t envy these young men and women out there who are really– they come on this job to help people. I think they realize how incredibly difficult it is to do that.
[00:27:51] One of the things, when I talk about public opinion and policing and I used to say that in all of my trainings at NYPD. one day, I thought, at some point some chief is going to come yell at me, but nobody did. I said, “Nobody outside of this room–” This room being One Police Plaza or wherever I was training, “Nobody here cares about your CompStat numbers. Nobody in Mott Haven, the Bronx is looking, going on Thursday morning and checking and be like, “Ooh, grand larcenys are down 17%. I feel safer.” They don’t care. They care about what they see when they leave their house. Are people double parked? Is there trash on the street? Is there a homeless person screaming and throwing trash at you? Everybody cares about that stuff.
[00:28:39] I remember a commanding officer of a precinct in Brownsville, New York, which is really one of the most high crime areas in New York tell me– People come to my community council meetings and they complain about double parking, because that’s this low hanging fruit. But that’s also stuff you see every single day. I teach a lot about engaging, answering people. But engaging is not just answering. It’s also in having your ear to the ground and knowing what people in your community care about. Every good officer, if you wake them up in the middle of night and be like, “What’s that one thing that everybody in your community gets worked up about?” And they’ll tell you. It’s like the speeding in the school zone or the bodega that plays loud music or whatever.
[00:29:24] So, have your ear to the ground. What do people care about? Not just people on social media, because social media, it’s an insight. It’s a window, but it’s not the public. But you know what your public cares about and post about it. So, let’s say, there’s a neighborhood in Brooklyn where people are very concerned about bike lanes being blocked. So, let’s say, this is something that happened. There was a trash can, like, a big sanitation trash thing blocking the bike lane. Every day they would complain, complain, complain, and complain.
[00:29:56] So, the police department eventually took action and they said, “You tweeted. We listened. We worked with sanitation, and we moved the trash can and cleared the bike lane.” That kind of tweet is better than any kitten you just saved from a tree or baby that you just birthed in the back of your car. Those are the things that people really care about. You have to take your victory lap, because they’re not going to drive by there and be like, “Oh, that’s so nice.” A 78 precinct, remove that thing. No, they’re going to drive by and be like, “Oh, somebody cleared the bike lane.” But you have to take your victory lap, and you have to say, “We heard you. Here’s what we did.” That’s something the cops are a little uncomfortable with because they don’t like toot their own horn.
Dan: [00:30:40] Hugely valuable.
Dave: [00:30:40] Yeah.
Dan: [00:30:42] That’s how you connect and engage with people.
Yael: [00:30:44] Yeah. You’re not going to call the press office and be like, “Hello, I’d like to report this great arrest that I just did.” But your partner should. I’d encourage people all the time, if we don’t know, if we and the media people, the social media people don’t know, we can’t put it out there. And also, don’t think about it as something of just patting Dan or Dave on the back, like, just like when something bad happens and it reflects on all police, right? Something in Minneapolis happens and it reflects on the police in Portland. Same thing when something good happens. If there’s a good national news story about something good a police officer does, it reflects on the entire profession.
[00:31:23] I’ll tell you one of our most viral stories ever was a cop in Times Square who– There was a woman from Ireland, a tourist, who was standing in line to get Hamilton tickets, which is like the hottest show on Broadway at the time. She was in line for three days in a row, and she eventually got her tickets, but she was short $20. And she ran outed line, they told her they’re not going to hold the tickets, and she ran out, and she saw a police officer, and she started asking for an [unintelligible [00:31:50], whatever. What does a cop do? He’s like, “Okay, lady, here’s $20.” Because he wants to help her. She wrote a letter to the mayor’s office, and we kind of– I forget how I heard about it, but I’m like, “We need to put this out.”
[00:32:07] That $20 to get Hamilton tickets was bigger than any heroic thing, because it’s unexpected. We expect cops to save people’s lives. We don’t expect them to do like small good deeds like that.
Dave: [00:32:22] They happen all the time.
Yael: [00:32:24] Every day.
Dave: [00:32:26] I guess, for me, personally, virtue signalers really bug me. I’m that way with cops and regular people. So, I think cops look at it sometimes and they’re like, “Well, I’m just doing my job. I got paid for it. I don’t want to throw the virtue signaling thing out there.” Like, “I’m proud of what I did because that’s truly how they feel.”
Yael: [00:32:46] Yeah. And I called up that cop and I asked him– He didn’t know at first– He was like, he didn’t remember. And then I reminded him this happened on this day and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I totally get what you’re saying.” People on social media can also smell it when it looks like you’re trying too hard,-
Dave: [00:33:01] Right.
Yael: [00:33:02] -which is, a lot of police departments, a lot of social media accounts in general do that.
Dave: [00:33:22] Yael, you had mentioned earlier in the podcast, recruitment and retention as concerns. Can you expand on that?
Yael: [00:33:30] Yeah. So, like I said, the NYPD, like, many other departments, lost a lot of officers after 2020. There are multiple reasons for that, but almost every single officer that I know that was eligible to leave left. A lot of them felt it wasn’t worth the risk anymore. They didn’t want to be arrested for something that they don’t think was justified. They didn’t want to be a viral video and there was a real sense of danger. If you’re past your 20 years or 25 years or when you’re eligible for retirement, it’s a no brainer. It’s not like somebody quitting and necessarily dropping the pen. It’s just saying, “Okay, well, I don’t really need to do this.” That’s a big issue.
[00:34:08] When I did this interview once with a few officers, and at one time, cops were very happy to have their children come on the force and their family. I asked one officer who’s very actually high ranking and asked him, “Would you let your kid become a police officer?” And he said, “This city doesn’t deserve my kid.” I think that’s something very deep that is felt among a lot officers in a lot of cities. And then recruitment is tough, because it’s not as respected as it used to be. Again, if we’re looking at public opinion, the job is still good, the benefits are still good, the pay is getting better and better because police departments are offering a lot of really lucrative packages, but it’s not considered worth it anymore for a lot of young people. Unfortunately, a lot of police departments are dealing with this by lowering standards for hiring.
Dave: [00:34:57] We could talk about this for the next 10 hours. I’m just sitting here nodding my head like, “Yeah.”
Yael: [00:35:04] Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Dave: [00:35:05] This is reality from people who actually have a practiced and trained perspective on these issues. Lots of times, we don’t even get asked for our opinion on it, but I agree. Why stick around in some of these areas and departments when you don’t have to, when there’s really more risk than reward for sticking around?
Yael: [00:35:28] And you don’t have the tools to do your job.
Dave: [00:35:30] Yeah. And honestly, you need the public’s support to do these things, because unfortunately, we do have decision makers right now who make emotional, politically charged decisions rather than on facts. You have to worry about that stuff. I’m not in the job because it just got miserable.
Yael: [00:35:49] Yes. There’s a police chief, Art Acevedo, and he says, “When you talk about criminal justice reform, you have to think about the criminal justice system. You have to think about the courts, and how long you wait, and the prison systems, and the district attorneys. This is a very complex system. Police are at the forefront of it, but it’s so much bigger than that.”
Dave: [00:36:09] Agreed. [chuckles] It’s a big machine. So, you’re with NYPD at some point. You moved on, but you mentioned that you work with other agencies. So, my curiosity is, are you specific to police agencies or can you work with any sort of person or company to devise strategies that help them either build their business or engage with the public in a more constructive way? How do people use you to find their own success?
Yael: [00:36:40] So, on my consulting side, I work primarily with law enforcement agencies right now, helping them, first of all, audit their current social media, but also build a strategy that works for them, whether you’re a 5-person department or a 5,000-person department. That’s very important to come in and see like, “Okay, what are we working with here? What are the needs on the ground and how can we make this work for you?” Because like I said earlier, my job is to make your life easier, not harder, with social media.
[00:37:11] Unfortunately, like I said, for police departments, you really have no choice because people are out there talking about you, whether you like it or not. The Yonkers example, right? I mean, they have a great social media presence, but that happened. Whether or not they have social media, somebody captured that interaction and put it on social media. So, you can say that you don’t want to do it, but it could still come for you.
Dave: [00:37:34] It’s the biggest thing facing law enforcement today.
Dan: [00:37:37] Right. I agree. If you’re not at least acknowledging that you have to have a social media presence and you have to address things via social media, because that’s really how you’re exposed to the public. People go to your social media page and they want to know what you have to say. So, if you’re not acknowledging it, you’re just ignoring the problem.
[00:37:58] Now, on our other podcast, Small Town Dicks, when Dave and I vet a guest to see if they’d be a good fit for our podcast, I typically ask them one question. What’s the case you’re most proud of? So, Yael, what work that you did with NYPD are you most proud of?
Yael: [00:38:17] Wow. So, I had to pick one– Rolling out the localized program is my baby, and it’s still out there. I’m proud of all the times we managed to change the tone a little bit. So, I didn’t become the director of social media until later on in my tenure there. And then I worked with a team, and we oversaw all the NYPD properties, including NYPD News’ Twitter, which was like the holy grail and that was always very official and very formal. Every time we could bend it just a little bit—
[00:38:51] One time, I remember a big transformer exploded– and electric like Con Edison transformer exploded in Queens a few years ago, and the whole sky turned like a light blue at night. It was one of those things where everybody– My phone was blowing up because everybody could see it. Anybody who was looking outside, “Oh, my God, the sky was turning this weird shade of blue.” I was home. At the time, it was late already and found out what was going on like, “Was anybody injured? Was anybody killed?” And they’re like, “No.” I’m like, “Okay, so, maybe we can have a little bit of fun with it.”
[00:39:27] We put out this tweet that said something like giving people information, saying, “We want to confirm this was a Con Edison transformer, no injuries, no this, no evidence of alien invasion” or something like that. But it was like in our police tone, but a little bit tongue in cheek, and it went wild, and it was all over the news and everything. And for me, it’s like A, giving people the information which is most important. We’re not showing up there trying to be standup comics, but we’re showing that there are people behind these uniforms that may or may not have a sense of humor.
Dan: [00:39:58] I think it’s a brilliant move. I think anybody in that situation, any citizen who sees something like that and they don’t know what it is, I think a moment of levity can ground them a little bit and make them feel a lot more comfortable. And also, you get to show that, yes, we have a sense of humor too. We are human beings.
Dave: [00:40:16] This has been a long time coming, and I appreciate you coming on. I hope to have you in the future as well.
Yael: [00:40:21] Oh, thank you.[music]
Dan: [00:40:27] On the next Briefing Room, we talk to a digital forensic guy who will blow your mind with all the ways he can get into your devices.
Digital Forensic Guy: [00:40:35] We’ve had all sorts of major crimes that ended up being very heavy with the digital forensics. We have a lot of murders that have a lot of digital forensics nowadays. We’re using the cell phones to really put the nail in the coffin when it comes to convictions. You’ll use them to track people, we’ll use them to check where their location was, if we can pinpoint them to where the crime was. There’s so much information now that people, I guess, don’t realize that their phone is keeping track of that when we can get in there and take a look at it after a crime has occurred, it really can make or break a case.
Dave: [00:41:16] That’s next week on The Briefing Room.[music]
Yeardley: [00:41:21] The Briefing Room is produced by Jessica Halstead and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Executive producers are Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith. Our production manager is Logan Heftel. Logan also composed the theme music. Soren Begin is our senior audio editor. Monika Scott runs our social media and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
[00:41:46] Thank you to SpeechDocs for providing transcripts. To read those transcripts or to hear past episodes, please go to our website at thebriefingroompod.com. The Briefing Room is an Audio 99 production. And I cannot go without saying thank you to you, all of you are fans, you are the best fans in the pod universe. And I can say with complete confidence, nobody is better than you.
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