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 email@example.com 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.