Foursquare, don’t believe everything you see.

Foursquare can be an effective resource to place in your social media tool box.  It has some great functionality for our needs.  Yes, you can become a mayor or get deals based on ‘checking-in’ at a location, but there really is a lot more to it than just getting a virtual crown.

There are a few really good examples of what some police and law enforcement agencies are doing with the geo-based location service.  But there are also some things you need to be aware of from both investigative, communication and officer safety views.

Overt Use

Richmond, VA Police

Toronto Police adding "Tips"

Setting up your agencies location(s) can allow you to leave tips regarding things like contact information, Crime Stoppers info and awareness messaging.

You can leave tips on other locations as well.  Homicide scene? Drop in a link to the press conference or contact information for the investigators.  Busy tourist area? Again, contact information for police, crime prevention tips for shoppers.  Try this one…have an area that sees many vehicle crashes?  Create the location, or search to see if it’s already created and post that your agency routinely does speed, red light, or DUI enforcement in the area.

A police officer checking into a location can have the beneficial effect of letting people in the area know that the police are ‘in the house’.  This is not what a criminal or someone with less than pure motives wants to see.  But this can also have a negative side to it as well.  From an officer safety aspect, you could be pinpointing your location for anyone who wants to set you up or worse, take you on.  That holds true anywhere, anytime, but why give them the extra leg up on you.   Fix…maybe try checking out of a location.  You still leave your footprint, but you’re not standing there.  (Also a very good idea for women, especially those who use their real picture with their profile.)


So, you think that you’ve got a real good lead on someone based on the location they checked in at, because you used Foursquare to see who was in the area when something went down.  Or, you’ve got an eye on someone for a crime but they claim they couldn’t have done it because they used a geo-location service which shows they were nowhere near where the crime happened.  A cyber alibi if you will.

Let’s take a look at this and see if this is a problem.

In the two images below you can see that I am ‘Checking-In”.  First pic is based on, “What’s nearby”  I’ve highlighted “Downtown Oakville”

What's nearby...Downtown Oakville, 662 Metres Away

In this pic , I’ve checked in, earned my points and moved up the leader board.

I'm checked in, Downtown Oakville

No big deal right?  Well if you look at the right side of both pictures, you can see a brown marble building with blue lettering.  Kind of looks like this place…

Downtown Toronto, Police HQ

That’s right.  Even though my phone thought I was in Downtown Oakville, I was standing across the street from 40 College Street, Toronto, Ontario.

I enabled my ‘Check-In” at Downtown Oakville to go to Twitter which elicited a response from a friend of mine, @BigDaddyKreativ wondering what I was doing in his stomping grounds.

40 College St, Toronto, Ontario. Toronto Police Headquarters

The reply was simple…another “Check-In” that showed where I actually was.

I assure you that I didn’t use any tricks or manipulate the geo functions at all.  It’s a slip up within FourSquare when it can’t determine where you actually are.

And on a side note, but completely related, I also checked in at the Starbucks in downtown Washington DC with.  No points for that one, but it showed up on FourSquare showing I was there.

So, use FourSquare, experiment and find great ways to reach out and connect with your community! You’ll be glad you did and so will your city!  Who knows, you could become the mayor of your police service and your city hall! (Without the pay cheque to match)

Here are some other great reads on Law Enforcement using FourSquare

Boca Police, IACP blog

Richmond Police, IACP Blog

Scott Mills, Foursquare blog post

So, let me know what you think? Agree, disagree?? How about things you’ve found that work, don’t work.

About Tim Burrows

Tim Burrows was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including, IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing and crisis communications. Tim is available to assist you with your social media program and communication. Click here to contact him
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2 Responses to Foursquare, don’t believe everything you see.

  1. Pingback: A Social Business Screencast on Social Media with Tim Burrows of the Toronto Police | Life@42: A Leadership Social Novel

  2. I played around with foursqaure for a bit… I didnt really find it all that useful for my purposes, but like you mentioned it certainly has hidden uses. I think if I was actually more social and actually cared where my friends were(im just mean like that lol) it might be more useful to me.

    I think the GPS stuff has to work like that because the hardware may not be 100% accurate…so it allows you to check in to nearby places.

    Good read!


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