Working the digital beat
Local police departments use social media to increase communication with the general public
By Brett Auten
There’s much more to social media than pet pics and status check-ins. For area police departments, it’s a two-pronged tool that provides a direct line of information to its communities.
Val Joyner is the Public Affairs Officer and Cultural Liaison with the St. Charles County Police Department. Joyner started with SCCPD in 2015 and has had a long career in public relations and communications.
“We primarily distribute information in regards to public safety,” Joyner said. “We have pushed some multi-jurisdictional campaigns and we do like to show the work we’re doing in the community.”
Facebook is the piece de resistance for all the departments. A Sept. 5 SCCPD post warning its followers about a social security scam generated over 2,000 shares and drew over 600 comments. Twitter is another social media platform that many departments incorporate.
“Many times, the information on Facebook will mirror what is on Twitter,” Joyner said. “One thing is for certain, if it is an important advisory or if we’re looking for a suspect, we will push it out on both. Facebook is our largest audience and it does skew to a more mature audience, but the message is mostly the same.”
The O’Fallon Police Department is the Chicago Bulls in the 90s when it comes to this subject. O’Fallon boasts over 33,000 followers on Facebook and nearly 7,000 on Twitter.
A lot of the heavy legwork that went into building that base was done by Robert Kendall. After some in-house reshuffling, Kendall has returned to the streets of O’Fallon and Tony Michalka is the current Public Information Officer, a position he claimed just three weeks ago.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” Michalka said. “He set the bar high up until his last day. Other departments always wanted to know what was up Rob’s sleeve. O’Fallon is the lead in this and it will continue to be that way. There are no extra awards. There’s no extra money. We do it to give the residents what they deserve.”
County-wide, everyone has jumped on board the #9pmreminder campaign, which is a daily post, usually accompanied by a funny GIF or picture, reminding followers to lock your car doors, hide or bring in valuables and lock your front doors as a reminder to fight crimes of opportunity.
“The goal is to grab your attention,” Michalka said. “We have curated memes and have used popular memes. We want to make you look. If it is just a line of text, you will scroll right past it.”
Melissa Doss is a Community and Media Relations Officer with the St. Peters Police Department. She has been with the department in this capacity for 11 years.
“When I first started, it was all about press releases,” Doss said. “You would send them out and then cross your fingers and hoped the news would pick it up. If it didn’t, then the information would just fall into the background. That’s how it was for a long time. Now, anything that would have been a press release, goes straight to Facebook.”
As social media became more and more a part of everyone’s everyday life, it gave officers like Doss a chance to evolve with it.
“It has allowed for many advantages,” Doss said. “We control the message. For example, if we post a 30-second video, you get to watch the entire 30 seconds and not just a few seconds that would make it onto the news. We have more people identifying criminals now on Facebook. If it something like a misdemeanor theft, it’s not a big deal to the news station but it is a big deal to us and our citizens.”
The St. Peters Police Department gets down to brass tacks when it comes to posts and messages and tries to get content out at least once a week.
“More than anything, we’ve turned it into an informative page,” Doss said. “Sometimes we will put up a few thatta boys’, but not a ton. I think it comes down to the personal preference of each department.”
Melinda Kues is an administrative assistant with the Lake Saint Louis Police Department. Kues says that Lake St. Louis uses Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor.com, a free and private social network for neighborhoods.
“We tend to post everything on Facebook, Twitter is somewhat limited and for Nextdoor, we utilize it for PSA or safety issues and concerns,” Kues said. “We have more followers on Facebook than any other platforms.
The Lake St. Louis PD uses social media primarily for informational purposes. However, it has promoted various law enforcement events such as food/school supplies/coat drives/collections.
“Also, from time to time, we recognize citizens for their kindness, generosity and support for our department and/or law enforcement,” Kues said. “It is very important to thank people for going out of their way to do something nice for us.”
Being a smaller agency, Lake St. Louis does not have full-time resources assigned to social media so it will partner with other area police departments and post a county-wide PSA post every Thursday.
“We try to do a scam of the week every Wednesday,” Kues said. “Once a month we pick a street location or intersection and bring awareness to safety issues. We call it T.E.L.L which is Traffic Enforcement Location Listing to deter traffic violations. Next week is Child Passenger Safety Week so we will have a post each day focused on car seats.”
What’s next on the horizon is anyone’s guess. In 10 years, information could be bouncing around on a platform we’ve not even heard of yet and Facebook and Twitter will be like MySpace.
Wherever it ends up, count on your local police departments to be right there with you along for the ride, and maybe posting a pet pic or two.