Seattle PD officers go to virtual world to talk to community

Community engagement has become a big buzzword, especially for police departments. Finding a way for police officers to connect to the people they serve often means trying new things, like putting down a gun and picking up a game controller.

SEATTLE -- Community engagement has become a big priority, especially for police departments. Finding a way for police to connect with the people they serve is even more important in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and shootings involving officers.

That’s why the Seattle Police Department is experimenting with a new form of community outreach that might catch on in a tech-savvy city like Seattle.

Every Tuesday morning before they go to work, three members of the SPD's Public Affairs team fight off space aliens in a virtual world while discussing police-related issues. They livestream it for anyone to see and hear.

Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, SPD’s public affairs director, announced the topics as they begin playing a video game called Destiny, made by the Bellevue-based game-maker, Bungie.

“We're going to talk a little about the Seattle homelessness crisis,” Whitcomb said. “We're also going to talk about inconsiderate drivers who block intersections during commutes, and we're going to close out with bicycle theft.”

Senior communications manager Jonah Spangenthal-Lee and public information officer Patrick Michaud join the multi-player game, all of them logging in from home.

They broadcast the gameplay and the discussion and on the video streaming platform known as Twitch, owned by Amazon, potentially connecting them to millions of viewers who might never meet a police officer.

Spangenthal-Lee said they pick their topics based on current events, like the tanker crash that snarled traffic in Seattle on Monday. They also take suggestions.

“We get a lot of questions on Reddit, some on Facebook we go through those the day before and talk through any other major news incidents,” said Spangenthal-Lee.

They learned how humbling it could be to battle bad guys on the hardest level of a video game in a public arena. Talking while doing it is even more challenging.

“We're all capable of speaking. We're all capable of playing video games,” said Michaud. “But putting those two things together is much more difficult than anyone gives people credit for.”

For now, the three SPD staffers experiment with this form of outreach on their own time. They upload the weekly sessions to Youtube.

Copyright 2017 KING


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