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Helsinki Police joining WhatsApp in online outreach effort

The Helsinki Police Department's newly-hired internet officer says the capital city's bureau will add the chat service WhatsApp to their social media toolkit this week. The department wants to monitor activities on the web in similar ways as on the streets.

Teemu Hokkanen.
Sergeant Teemu Hokkanen is Helsinki Police department's new internet officer. Image: Yle

Helsinki Police department's recently-hired internet cop Sergeant Teemu Hokkanen says his job is to give the public advice and to prevent online crime. 

The bureau is continuing to try to reach residents where they are, and increasingly that's the internet. On November 3, the department will add the chat application WhatsApp to the myriad of social media platforms it already uses, according to Hokkanen.

"The purpose of having an internet officer is to lower the public's threshold for contacting the police about potentially-difficult issues. It's often easier to [contact us] via a keyboard than to by calling or visiting the police," he says.

WhatsApp is only the latest of several social media applications that the Helsinki Police Department is utilising. The agency already uses Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

"We want to test different channels so that people of all ages can get in touch with us. We are using WhatsApp in order to reach younger people better than we have in the past," Hokkanen says.

Same approach as street patrols

The officer says that while the police cannot monitor all of the internet's forums and chat sites, he thinks the outreach efforts will help to ease the law enforcement agency's work.

This is where the similarities between police work on the streets and the internet intertwine, Hokkanen says.

"This is the same reality as out on the streets. We can't see everything that happens everywhere, but we still want to be available if we're needed," he says.

"If something [criminal] happens in a private flat we can go there and knock on the door. If something, like hate speech for example, [criminal] takes place on a social media forum we're now able to go there, too," he says.

The department's social media efforts are not only about monitoring the public. The platforms are also used to inform the public as well as the media.

Helsinki Police Chief Lasse Aapio says that the department's goal is to be able to disseminate reliable information which is easily and quickly accessible to everyone.

"That way, we can end rumours and be able to give advice [to the public] about how to react in different situations," Aapio says.

"Quick [access to] information is particularly important if public order and security is threatened," he says.

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