Post by: Kim Stephens
When looking for a Brimfield, Massachusetts Facebook page I came across the Brimfield, Ohio Police Department’s page. That little mistake has turned into quite a happy accident since the Ohio page is filled with many interesting examples to draw upon. You don’t have to look any further than their comment policy for some idea of what I mean. Here’s an excerpt:
“For those of you just joining us….Our legal people said we need some type of rules for our FB site; so we avoid fussing, I guess. They suggested a “take down” or “removal” policy. I declined both. I told them I would handle relaying the message…
This is a police department Facebook page. If you have reached it by mistake or you are overly self righteous or are offended easily, you will hate it here and you will certainly dislike me greatly. We tell the truth, from the the field. We deal in realities. We post stories some may find funny, sad or other touchy feely stuff. We do not post names or mugshots, because we are not the National Enquirer. If you know the people involved in crashes, driving drunk, selling drugs or committing other criminal offenses, I would not get on this page and announce it.
If I make you angry, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call —. If you attack me or my officers in this public FB forum, expect me to take you to the woodshed in the same forum…right before you are removed from the site. I believe in public praise and private criticism.”
When I spoke to Chief Oliver about his page over a month ago he told me that he had a content strategy that was exactly 3 words long: “Tell the truth.” Talking to him was really enjoyable since he didn’t mince words about how and why he was using the page and social media in general. He said for one, he is the head of a public service agency and therefore information should be released to the public in a consumable format–and Facebook happens to be a great way to reach the local audience. For two, the content they post is not secret, so why not? What he said exactly was “We’re not freakin’ James Bond here.” Another thing that he said that stuck with me was “It’s made us human.”
I “Liked” the page (of course–this is one to watch) and in my news feed this week one of their posts intrigued me. The Chief had a long explanation about an item they would NOT be posting. I’ve never seen anything quite like this so I wanted to share it with my readers.
Remember when I told you if I made a mistake, I would own it and apologize for it? Stand-by for that…
We have warrants for over 250 people. These are people who have failed to show up for court on a variety of charges. Heroin possession, identity theft, OVI, robbery….we have a bunch of people who need to be seen by the judge…and they won’t show up for court. So, in my infinite wisdom, I got the idea to post pictures of some of these individuals on our page in order to generate some leads and clear up some of these warrants. I am not the kind of person who posts pictures or names on our page. We will NOT be a tabloid style page. I get enough grief for being outspoken; I don’t need more for something I really don’t want to do anyway.
So, with bright idea in mind, I posted the first (and last) three wanted persons last week. The normal amount of insults and opinions flowed through…we did get some leads; but then something else happened….A juvenile child of one the “wanted people” contacted me. In posting those pictures I overlooked the one thing I stand for the most….the children. You see, even though the adults are wanted and may be in the mope stage of their life, they may have children. Those children are likely on Facebook. I can imagine no worse feeling as a child than seeing mom or dad listed on a police department Facebook page, under “wanted persons”.
So, although it is perfectly legal to post pictures of people wanted by police, because it is all public record…it may not be the right thing to do. In this case, while I am in charge…it is most definitely NOT the right course to be on and we won’t go that direction. Absolutely regardless of the conduct of a parent- the child should not pay the bill. Children should not suffer because their parents cannot act like adults. Alienating these children from police and other authorities drives them further towards a life which will lead to trouble. I cannot do that. I am supposed to look out for them….and I will. “I am sorry” goes to the children who saw those posts. Look at the example of the life you have been exposed to and break that cycle…you can do it.
We do not have to be a product of our environment if we choose not to be……Chief.
What are your thoughts? What would you do or do you do? How do you balance the need to release information versus the need to be a part of the broader community and not embarrass someone’s children–and potentially cause them to become scorned? Let me know what you think.
I don’t live in Brimfield but I do live in the area, and Chief’s page came highly recommended to me by some local friends. As a social media consultant myself I see at work a level of honesty on the Brimfield Police FB page not often duplicated elsewhere, and a community outreach a lot of police departments don’t bother to offer. The people of Brimfield are lucky to have this and should laud their police department.
Thanks for your comment Andrew. Someone asked me on Twitter “Has FB use affected the community’s view of the PD positively, negatively, or not at all?” I think your comment answers that question!
Kim, We, the residents of Brimfield, are so very proud of Chief Oliver and his tremendous staff; they are an amazing bunch of professionals. You should come personally visit our little (or not so little on FB) township and judge for yourself… We try to give Kudos to the police department whenever we can and as often as we can…
I follow that page and I don’t live in Brimfield either. I think the Chief is on to a good thing here.Just today he posted info about a missing child and asked his followers to repost it so it might go viral. What a great way to help children! Way to go Chief, we need more of this kind of co-operation between law enforcement and citizens.
I don’t live in Ohio, but I love the Brimfield Police Department’s commitment to presenting honest information and developing relationships with the community they serve. I think that it is crucial for both a community and their local police department to maintain positive relationships with each other, but like the commenter above me mentioned, not all departments work on community outreach. The tension that arises from the us (community) vs. them (police) mentality is detrimental, especially since police departments rely on the support of their communities, and vice versa.
Thanks Terri–it is great to hear from people who live there. It’s true “thanking social finest” that open and honest communication can truly build a bond between an organization and the citizens–no matter what the platform. I also agree that community outreach should be one of the top, if not the top, priority.
I love this, Kim. It reminded me–maybe I should add “a good conscience” to my two ingredients for handling comments: posting policy and triage response system.
I wish all public service entities could be this straightforward … social media policies usually have the goal to obfuscate and confuse in the broad public sector … I like the 3-word policy: TELL THE TRUTH !
let the people your serve decide if it’s right or wrong …. put your clients first .. thanks for bringing this to our attention !
Thanks Chris and Patrice. When I spoke with him I thought everyone would enjoy his honest policy and great posting practices–glad you like it!