Police forces around the country are shaking off the image of cops as an unsocial lot. In fact, they are turning to social media to help them interact more with the town’s residents and catch crooks.
If it were an official computer application, it might be called Gotcha! Unfortunately, that name has already been snatched up by a software that helps teachers and college profs catch cheating students.
Over in Alva, the police department has launched its own Facebook page
(http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alva-OK/Alva-Oklahoma-Police-Department/2944649877770). It not only features photos and information designed to let citizens help them find suspects. It also connects the department to the community in ways not possible before the social networking era.
Connecting police to the town
On that page you can find photos of the APD vs. AFD 2010 AFD Mud Run, and feedback from Alva residents about how great it is to see police officers and firefighters stage a fun event like that for charity.
Oklahoma City police also have their own Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oklahoma-City-OK/Oklahoma-City-Police-Department/65444419168), and it is full of official reports albeit short on the friendly community flavor of Alva’s page.
Alva’s Facebook page lists some 800 friends, while the Oklahoma City PD page lists some 4,700. Compared to the relative sizes of the two cities, Alva police have a higher percentage of residents connected to their page.
Elsewhere in the country, police in the northeast Ohio town of Medina are using Facebook in several unique ways. Not only are they asking for residents’ help in spotting at-large suspects; they are becoming “friends” with those suspects themselves, sometimes on the fugitives’ own FB pages.
Stories like this have to join the growing list of stupid criminal jokes. Seems it’s not just college students posting pictures of themselves violating university rules; felony suspects have their own Facebook pages, too.
Last year, Medina Police searched Facebook the first time for a suspect, arresting a 27-year-old man who had fled an old warrant for drug charges. The department believes this may have been the first case in Ohio – if not the country – of police using Facebook to catch fugitives.
“Thirty years ago, we posted wanted fliers at the post office; today it’s Facebook,” Police Chief Patrick Berarducci told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I’m shocked at how fast this first arrest came in.”
Seeking the town’s help
Also in Ohio, the Reynoldsburg Division of Police has begun its own Facebook page in which it posts news about outstanding arrest warrants, pictures of suspects and of missing persons, latest crime stats for the area, you name it. The idea is to get citizens to help them in spotting suspects and to alert residents to criminal activity in the area.
Detective Mike Bender told the Columbus NBC-TV affiliate, “We picked the clearest photos (of suspects) we could and posted them on Facebook. This is a quick way to reach a large number of the population. Also, people log onto their Facebook accounts all the time and this way people can access the info when they want it.”
Reynoldsburg is only one of many police departments, large and small, around the country that have turned to the social media to help fight crime.
Seems like it works all the way over in Maine, too.
“Smile!” You’re on Candid Camera
In Auburn, police had a Facebook page up for less than three weeks before residents identified the video of three vandalism suspects in action, taken by a surveillance camera during the crime. Police in this Maine town also posted another video showing a suspect stealing a snowboard from a local ski shop. They expect that will lead to an arrest, too.
Auburn Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen told the Associated Press, “This latest arrest is proof positive that this is just another way for us to use emerging technology.”
The Web site, ‘Inside Facebook,” (www.insidefacebook.com) chronicles a few ways in which still other police departments are using the social media and why.
In the Indianapolis suburb of Greenville, for example, the police department posts the Indiana Sheriff’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry as one of its Links. They also link to the citizens group of Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana.
Helpful hints in California
The Salinas, Calif., PD issues press releases on Facebook and Twitter and provides helpful information for town residents. For example, in one January post, they told residents what to do during a bad storm if they saw a downed power line and provided emergency phone numbers for the gas and electric company.
Big cities like Chicago and Dallas also have active FB pages, although many of the smaller departments seem to actually take more care personalizing their pages, perhaps reflecting the connectedness of their communities. That seemed to be the same pattern in the Oklahoma City and Alva pages, as mentioned earlier.
Facebook and Twitter have proven to be a particularly good way for police to reach young people who have pretty much turned out the mainstream media newscasts and newspapers. For example, the sheriff’s department in Gainesville, Fla., responded to a survey showing many of the University of Florida students don’t watch or read the news. But nearly all of them were logging onto Facebook regularly.
All in all, it’s not your father’s police force anymore.