Richmond police utilize social media
on September 6, 2011
When Michelle Milam first set up Richmond Police Department’s Facebook profile in January, she couldn’t help but wonder how many people were going to “like” the page.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Richmond Police Facebook page had 634 fans, with 14,711 unique views over the last month. The average Facebook user has only 130 friends, according to the social media site’s statistics.
“A big part of it is to build those one-on-one relationships,” said Milam, the department’s crime prevention manager. “It’s reinforcement that these officers are real people and part of the community.”
Social media opens a direct line of communication between law enforcement and its citizens. Richmond’s police page shares safety tips, photos of officers participating in neighborhood events, crime stats and news updates, while the public is also free to voice its opinion or, as it often does, gratitude. Several people have also used the forum to inquire about job and internship opportunities.
In response to an Aug. 26 post about a homicide, Felix Hunziker, member of the Police Commission wrote: “Great to see neighbors come out to the vigil and a special thanks to Captain Manjit Sappal for an affirming speech on the importance of community in times like these.”
Jim Miller also commented, “It was a heartwarming vigil, I pray for the family and children.”
There are generally several fresh posts added each week and the “info” page lists general facts, such as the address and phone number. The average site visitor is a Richmond resident between the ages of 25 and 50, but Milam wants to strike up the dialogue with the younger generation as well. While teenagers might not turn on the news, many will regularly check Facebook.
“We have to make sure young people are included and their voices are being heard,” Milam said. “Being a young person you may not want to friend the police because historically we are seen as an authority figure. This is a different kind of page. It’s about community.”
Putting the police force on Facebook is part of a larger movement of government entities stepping into the social media scene. Police departments across the country, including Oakland and Los Angeles, have begun using platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for a variety of purposes. Some post pictures of wanted criminals or ask for the public’s help to identify suspects caught on surveillance footage. Richmond has not yet used its page in such ways but is open to the prospect, Milam said.
The department is, however, working on a series of YouTube videos that would teach people how to better protect themselves. Web browsers can already look up how to steal a car or how to break into a house. Richmond’s tutorials would show its community members how to guard their property from such crimes.
“The internet is a free-for-all to get information,” Milam said. “We’d also like to see it be used for good.”
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