UX Research: Social Media to Address Crime Prevention

In the last decade, much attention has been given to the police response towards crime. In the U.S., there is a national conversation around the police’s role and responsibility arising from reports of police brutality in cities - including Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson.  Consequently, there has been increased interest in the use of technology to address neighborhood crimes, including body cameras and social media to engage residents. Although prior research suggests that social media can benefit both police and communities, there are growing concerns about issues such as privacy, information security, and government surveillance.

In this research, we explored two questions: 

  • What are citizens’ perceptions of using social media to address crime prevention?
  • What are the implications for designing technology that support community policing?

My Role

I pursued this project as an independent study with the guidance of my professor, Dr. Sheena Erete. My work involved conducting an exhaustive literature review, active and targeted recruiting, constructing and employing user-centered methods (interviews, surveys), and using qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques to uncover insights and patterns in the data collected.

Survey of Social Media Engagement Across 77 Chicago neighborhoods

Because our study focuses on understanding perceptions around using social media for crime prevention, we wanted to target neighborhoods where residents were active participants of social media websites in conversations around crime. To understand online engagement across Chicago, I initially conducted a survey of 21 social media websites to assess the level of engagement of community members in each of the 77 Chicago neighborhoods in online conversations around local crime. I selected three community areas of low and high crime where members were active participants in conversations around crime.


I conducted interviews with 8 Chicago residents from high and low crime neighborhoods. Interviewees were recruited via social media websites. I asked residents about their experiences with and perceptions of social media, their interactions with and perceptions of the Chicago Police, their perceptions around crime prevention and community policing, and their thoughts on using social media to support crime prevention.


Additionally, I conducted a 38-question survey of residents across all 77 community areas in Chicago. Survey questions focused on topics such as residents’ experiences with and perceptions of using social media to support crime prevention, their perceptions of the police using social media to support crime prevention, their perceptions of the police and community’s responsibility towards crime prevention and policing, and demographic questions. 260 Chicago residents participated in the survey. 


I inductively coded interview transcripts using Dedoose and pooled common codes using an affinity diagram.  I derived themes that aligned with our research questions. 

Qualitative Analysis: Dedoose

Qualitative Analysis: Dedoose

Qualitative Analysis: Affinity Diagram

Qualitative Analysis: Affinity Diagram


I quantitatively analyzed the survey data using SPSS. I reviewed descriptive statistics and used a Mann-Whitney U test to examine independent variables that I believed could influence perceptions such as neighborhood crime level and trust toward the police.

Survey Data Analysis: Mapping Community Areas by Index Crime Levels

Survey Data Analysis: Mapping Community Areas by Index Crime Levels


Reflecting upon the themes that emerged from my analysis, I uncovered insights about participants' expectations for the police's usage of social media for crime prevention, concerns that govern their social media usage, and their concerns about the police's usage of social media for crime prevention.


Design Implications

Through analysis, I derived the following design implications to consider when designing technology to support crime prevention and community policing.

  1. Support Offline Relationships and Activities
  2. Provide Police with an Aggregate and Anonymized View of the Data Offered Through Social Media
  3. Use Commonly Used Social Media Platforms like Facebook and Twitter to Share Police Updates with the Community
  4. Hold Police Accountable for Actions towards Crime and Crime Prevention
  5. Highlight Roles and Rules of Participation

I presented the results of this research at the ACM CSCW conference 2017, Northwestern’s InfoSocial conference 2017, and the MidweSTS 2016 conference.

You can view a copy of our publication at the ACM Digital Library.

Contact me for the full white paper