06/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Smile ! You're On Social Media

A bellwether of the increasing popularity of social media's usage in law enforcement is the fact that there's now a conference planned to address the theme - an SXSW for 5-0 if you will.

According to Lauri Stevens, founder of LAwS Communications and organizer of the SMILE (Social Media In Law Enforcement) Conference being held in Washington D.C. April 7-9, 2010 adoption of social media is still in the "very, very, early stages" but she sees it making an upward turn.

"I expect 2010 will be a monumental year," she said.

It had better be because she's betting the farm on it.


Stevens' SMILE Conference has already attracted an international cadre of law enforcement agents to present how social media is being used at hundreds of police agencies all over the globe. The conference is going to be a boon for those in law enforcement because many experts say that of the police departments that have embraced social media many are still trying to figure it out.

Everyone in the industry agrees that the best way to delve into social media is simply adapt it to the way you already work, making it an extension of business as usual. Easier said than done. But Stevens says that for law enforcement, using social media isn't really any different than how they already have been trained to be cops.

"Social media are just tools to enhance their abilities to whatever they're already doing," she said. "Some cops don't get that yet, they think they're having to learn how to police differently and that's not the case."

Which is where the idea for the SMILE Conference originated.


"It's my attempt to provide a place for the leaders and visionaries in law enforcement who are currently using social media to come together and share ideas as well as train the next set of law officers who are poised to do so," Lauri Stevens, whose company, LAwS Communications is the sole creator and producer of the event, said of the conference.

Stevens has worked in media for twenty-five years starting her career as a radio reporter then moving into television. In her reporting she spent years covering law enforcement. She eventually ended up at The New England Institute of Art in Boston where she's currently the Chair of Web Design and Interactive Media.

Last September Stevens was presenting to a Twitter Conference in Boston about law enforcement's use of Twitter. Afterward she was approached by the conference organizer. He asked if she'd ever thought about producing a separate conference for law enforcement using social media. In fact she'd been discussing that very idea over the summer with Constable Scott Mills when they were talking about ways to try to help law officers learn how to leverage those tools in their work.

"I dismissed the idea because I had never produced a conference before, she said of her conversation with Mills.

But when fate stepped in a second time, she seized the moment. Stevens saw that the time was ripe to marry the power of the web and social media with law enforcement and the SMILE Conference was born. It wasn't as difficult to organize as she originally feared. The reaction to the idea for this event has been phenomenal.

"Last fall when I told Chief Dan Alexander I was going to do this conference he didn't hesitate a second to say 'I'm in, just tell me when and I'll be there,'" she said. "I got that sort of reaction from a lot of people and most of them have come through and are actually showing up and speaking for me. And I met nearly all of them online through social media."

I Want To Believe.

Stevens is confident that nobody will leave her SMILE Conference and not be a believer in the power of social media.

"I think most, if not all, are believers coming in," she said. "They're going to go home and put some really great ideas into play. Other agencies will see what they're doing and it will grow."

Among cops, there are still plenty skeptics out there. After a presentation to a group of law enforcement commanders in Texas, one of them pulled her aside and told her he thought social media was all just "entertainment."

"One day he and the other skeptics will realize that the homicide detective in Toronto isn't producing entertainment when he tweets about the suspects he's looking for," she said. "Especially when one day soon, he's going to find one because it got tweeted and retweeted around the globe."

At the SMILE conference law enforcement professionals from Holland, the UK, Canada and the U.S. will all be under one roof talking about how social media can contribute to fighting crime and making law enforcement easier.

"Hopefully even those who aren't attending, will see that and realize social media use in law enforcement is really wide spread and IT unites them even where they're different from each other," she said. "I'll go out on a limb a little here - and this isn't the first time I've said this - but I think social media can and will reduce crime significantly."

More And More SMILEs.

The reaction so far has been extremely positive and Stevens is having a good time along the way. When she came up with the term SMILE (standing for Social Media In Law Enforcement) she thought that it might be a little too cheeky for cops but in the end decided it was okay to have a little fun with it.

"We'll have people SMILE'n all over the globe very soon," she said. "Even the gent in Texas says he 'wants to believe.'"

The SMILE Conference starts Wednesday, April 7th and goes through Friday April 9th. For more information visit the SMILE Conference website or email Lauri Stevens.

Stevens is already planning the next one looking at locations in California and Florida as possibilities.

"One nutty Kahuna thinks he's going to convince me to hold one in Honolulu," she said. "He's drinking too much coconut. :)"