SPD aims to improve social media use

Oxford Police Chief Joey East discusses how the use of social media has completely changed the climate of their department and relationship with the public during the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police Winter Conference on Wednesday.  (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Logan Kirkland
Staff Writer

The Starkville Police Department learned new social media techniques and strategies to help better serve the community during the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police Winter Education Conference on Wednesday.

Media coordinator for the Federal bureau of Investigations in Jackson Brett Carr said the primary social media sites taking over the national sphere are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He said mainly in Mississippi, Twitter and Facebook are the most used among the population.

“When you are thinking about social media and being on social media, who are you trying to reach?” Carr said. “What’s popular today is not going to be popular tomorrow.”

In 2016, the united States had 287 million users on the internet. Carr said this year alone, Twitter has 330 million active monthly users and Facebook currently has 2.07 billion users.

“(That’s) 330 million people that you potentially could reach using twitter,” Carr said.

Carr said there are ways utilizing social media can benefit both the department and the public. he said it can help build a rapport throughout the community and can even help solve crimes.

There are times, Carr said, the public can quickly identify a person of interest. he said it is also important because it allows the departments to get information out quickly when an incident occurs.

“Locally, it’s going to be a good way to hear from the people you work for,” Carr said.

When building a following on social media, Carr said it is important to be thorough when vetting the information to the public because it is easy to make a mistake.

Once a department creates a following, Carr said it is crucial to continue with posts and engagement because people are looking for answers.

“You’re going to have more responsibility because now people are expecting you to post things,” Carr said.

Oxford police Chief Joey East gave a presentation on how their department’s use of social media has completely changed the climate of their department and relationship with the public.

“It’s not a scary tool, you shouldn’t be scared of it,” East said. “In fact, you should embrace it.”

In 2014, OPD had only 47 Twitter followers and now has approximately 33,346 followers. he said they have utilized Twitter to help find missing persons, armed robbery suspects and even something as simple as helping a young child find their missing stuffed animal.

“This is the way people are communicating now,” East said. “This is community policing of the future.”

For any department looking to dabble in the use of social media, East recommends to “start small”. He said this can range from traffic reports, arrest updates or even smaller topics to humanize officers.

Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady, who also runs SPD’s social media sites said he learned some useful information to help him better manage the accounts used for the department.

He said one of the most important things he learned was to pay attention to details, no matter how small.

“Some hashtags may start out as something completely innocent, but may turn into something that is being misused and that’s something you don’t want to be involved with,” Lovelady said.

Another tactic Lovelady will look into is the possibility of a policy change when it comes to social media pages for officers, but will look into what options are feasible.

“There’s a fine line,” Lovelady said. “We are public servants.”

Lovelady said hearing from East gave him some encouraging and helpful advice because OPD has set the standard of
how effective social media can be for a department.

“Their main thing is humanizing law enforcement and using social media as a tool to do that,” Lovelady said. “It’s a great tool for our law enforcement agency.”

With social media quickly changing, Lovelady said he thinks there is always room for improvement when it comes to the status of the department’s social media use. He said it is just important to figure out the right “flavor” for SPD.

“We hope over the next year to start engaging more,” Lovelady said. “We will look at expanding our social media reach by not only more followers in the areas we use already, but to increase the platforms.”