Area law enforcement use social media to inform public, build relationships
Just about everywhere you look, companies, individuals and nonprofits are joining the social media trend to promote, market and inform customers and clients. A growing number of law enforcement agencies are using social media to converse with the public and improve their community-police relationships.
A few area law enforcement agencies — Landis Police, China Grove Police, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and Kannapolis Police — use Facebook in particular to spread the word about crimes and engage the community.
Here’s a look at how some departments are incorporating social media into their law-enforcement efforts:
“It’s improved community relations overall. It’s definitely the most convenient mechanism we have to get the word out about town. It’s good if we have a rash of break-ins in a particular neighborhood,” said Capt. Roger Hosey.
Landis started its Facebook page in 2012, but initially it wasn’t very active, Hosey said.
He said in the beginning the page had 96 likes on May 22, 2014 and it began getting more active around May 30 and its likes moved up to 234. The page currently has 1,880 likes.
“It’s been pretty successful to help us gather information as far as tips,” he said.
Residents will send private Facebook messages providing information on crimes or suspicious behavior they’ve witnessed.
“It’s also a good public relations tool,” Hosey said.
Prior to race relations issues in Ferguson, Mo., Hosey said the page wasn’t as nearly as active.
“We recognized the power of it as a platform,” he said.
The page allows the department to be proactive instead of reactive.
“Social media takes it to where peopel are looking. It’s the best conduit for the way people consume media today,” he said.
China Grove Police Officer Reese Helms said he got the idea from a police agency in Ohio that used its social media page to provide anecdotal messages to the community. Helms started the China Grove Police Department Facebook page on Oct. 30, 2013.
“I thought it was a good outreach tool to better incorporate ourselves with the community,” he said.
The department social media page is maintained by Helms and Sgt. Nena Stillwell.
Helms said the two post less about who’s been arrested or the crime rate and mostly post about what’s going on in the community and within the police department.
He admits the page’s growth has stalled and attributes it to the lack of more serious material on the page.
The page garnered about 50 likes in the beginning, and within 48 hours about 175 people had liked the page. Now the Facebook page has 1,282 likes.
“The average post is reaching about 10,000, which is double the population,” Helms said.
If someone sends a private message through the police department’s Facebook, Helms said, the department does look at and address the issues.
“Law enforcement are struggling to reach the community, and it was important for me to be the voice of good,” Helms said.
Rowan County Sheriff’s Office
The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has a number of social media pages, including a Rowan County Sheriff’s Office page, Shield-A-Badge with Prayer, mug shots and a child support page.
On the sheriff’s office main page there are updates about drunk driving campaigns, safety tips and cold cases. The recently added child support Facebook page has proved to be very successful.
The page began Nov. 10, and since Jan. 31, according to Deputy John Lombard, who created the page, 15 people were recalled on child-support matters, which could’ve resulted from someone who has paid the child support he or she owes. There were eight people whose address was either in another county or the person could not be located.
Lombard said 67 people were arrested, and 20 of those people turned themselves into the sheriff’s office.
This is just one social media tool the sheriff’s office uses to provide a service to the community.
The Kannapolis Police Department uses its Facebook page to inform the community about promotions, upcoming events, media releases, wanted people and nuisance situations. The department began the Facebook page in 2012.
The page is maintained by the Kannapolis Police and the Kannapolis Fire departments. The departments’ Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system is currently linked to the social media page so designated service calls are automatically posted.
These calls generally deal with road and traffic conditions, fire department issues and general hazards, said Capt. Pat Patty.
Patty said also sector lieutenants post to the site about crime related statistics and public service announcements.
“It is a public forum to engage with the agency,” Patty said.
He said certain service calls generate more attention than others and some of the pictures and video generate more interest and comments.
One way the department used its Facebook page was in July 2014 for a public service announcement. The department had been to a particular home 60 times in the past year for various incidents, and it asked residents to report any suspicious behavior.
“We put the word out about the problems, asked residents to be mindful in the area, and the problem was eventually solved when the residence was vacated,” Patty said. “We found this to be an extremely good way to get the word out to area residents about the police activity in their neighborhood.”
By allowing the public to post pictures and links for community activities, Patty said, it generates community interest.
“We have received both positive and negative comments to specific posts, but in general the response has been positive,” he said.
“It is always gratifying when we receive information or assistance from our citizens, and in some cases their information has led to solving a crime or a addressing a neighborhood problem,” Patty said.