“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” —– Quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain, but whose origins are unclear
In today’s era of “fake news” and social media, the above well-known saying couldn’t be more relevant.
And pushing out timely and accurate information is one of the main functions of social media teams at law enforcement agencies.
The Anaheim PD, under the leadership of PIO Sgt. Daron Wyatt, has experienced strong growth on its social media platforms over the past 2½ years.
The agency now ranks third in O.C. in terms of Facebook followers (44k-plus) behind No. 1 Huntington Beach (nearly 63k) and No. 2 the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (nearly 47K).
In addition, the APD has 20.3k followers on Twitter (@AnaheimPD). And Anaheim Fire & Rescue, whose Twitter posts Wyatt also handles, has 27.2k, dramatically up from 4k after last year’s Canyon 1 and Canyon 2 fires.
On Instagram, the APD has grown its followers to 17.9k.
“(Social media is) a whole new element to not only communicate with the public, but also to get accurate information out there as quickly as possible,” says Wyatt, a 31-year law enforcement veteran.
“We can’t just use social media (to promote) good things, like Coffee with a Cop or National Night Out,” Wyatt said. “We also need to use it to prevent the spread of false information.
“When someone sees five cops standing on a street corner with their guns out, they put out (on social media) what they think they’re seeing.”
Wyatt spends the majority of his social media time pushing out tweets about news as it’s occurring, such as street shutdowns due to police perimeters or explaining why Angel, the APD’s air support unit, is buzzing overhead.
As stories become fleshed out, the APD then typically posts them on Facebook, often with photos, say, of at-large suspects and more details about the crimes they’re suspected of carrying out.
Recently, APD postings about two traffic collisions quickly led to suspects being taken into custody.
Following a fatal hit and run on Brookhurst Street on Saturday, April 28, the APD alerted the public on its social media channels that a suspect was seen driving away in a white or silver Acura with a missing side mirror.
A couple of days later, someone who saw the post called the APD and said they thought they saw the car parked on a street.
APD officers responded, and sure enough, that tip led to the arrest, on May 3, of 47-year-old Kelven Ta for the death of the 54-year-old male pedestrian.
The APD found Ta’s 2002 silver Acura 3.2 TLS parked on Juno Avenue. He has been booked for felony hit and run causing injury or death and is out on a statutorily imposed bond of $100,000 pending court proceedings.
Then, on May 4, the APD posted on social media that it was seeking the public’s help in identifying a person of interest in a serious motorcycle accident that happened on Tuesday, May 1.
The agency posted two photos of a suspect who exited a gas station at La Palma Avenue and East Street and turned across La Palma Avenue in front of the motorcyclist, who slid off his bike and ran into the suspect’s car.
A couple of days after the posts, the suspect — accompanied by an attorney — turned himself in to the APD.
In another example of postings leading to arrests, the APD pushed out a while ago that it was seeking a package thief.
The post included a photo of the female suspect.
A man called the APD.
“That’s my daughter,” he said.
“We can post a wanted person or a video of a crime and, just like that, it can be seen by 40,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 people,” Wyatt said.
The APD’s Burglary Detail hits up the Social Media Team all the time to post crime bulletins.
They’re happy to oblige.
Another popular topic is the memorial posts paying tribute to fallen officers. Anytime an officer is feloniously killed anywhere in the U.S., Charmaine Darmour, a member of the team, creates a memorial post for the fallen officer.
The APD is trying out other ways to engage with the public on social media.
The agency’s recently introduced “Ask a Motor Cop,” featuring a Facebook live session with Officer Shane Spielman, was “hugely successful,” Wyatt said.
The next “Ask a Motor Cop” session airs live at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16.
“I think (social media as a law enforcement tool) is evolving, and to do it right requires dedicated resources,” Wyatt said. “With increasing service demands and decreasing budgets, it’s important to draw upon the untold talents of people within the organization.”
Wyatt credits Traffic Office Specialist Lisa Anguiano, who has a graphic arts background, for most of the APD’s catchy graphics on their posts.
He said more and more people are requesting APD service via social media.
The agency’s social media team isn’t monitoring its channels 24/7 yet, but the goal is to soon get all APD dispatch supervisors to fill in the gaps when Wyatt and his team of a half-dozen or so social media posters — a combination of sworn and professional staffers — aren’t immediately available.
“Our goal is to be able to respond in real time 24/7,” Wyatt said. “Most of the (social media) training I’ve been to affirms that so far, we appear to be doing the right thing.”