The Huntington Beach Police Department hit a milestone last month – 20,000 “likes” on its Facebook page.
Social media has become a useful crime-fighting tool that is changing the way police officers interact with the public.
“We make an effort to be engaged in it,” said Capt. Russ Reinhart. “We take a look at the analytics to make sure we know our audience. We put up meaningful content that is current, relevant and interesting.”
Reinhart noted that several members of the department are social media administrators. He said the first year or two that the department began the social media push, there was a little bit of pushback, but now a couple times a week, officers send him information to post.
“One of the things we know is the community really likes crime stories,” he said.
The use of social media by law enforcement is on the rise across the country. A survey conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police asked 500 agencies in 48 states if they are using social media.
The survey showed that 98.9 percent were. The most common use of social media is for criminal investigations at 86.1%; the most frequently used social media platforms are Facebook (92.1%), Twitter (64.8%), and YouTube (42.9%); and 80.4% of agencies report that social media has helped solve crimes in their jurisdiction.
“I think this is just a tool to get more engaged and be part of the community,” Reinhart said. “It’s a new way of talking to each other. If we are not doing social media we are missing out on all those people who use it as their primary source of communication.”
It’s even being used to solve crimes.
Shortly after the department installed surveillance cameras Downtown, a thief was caught on video stealing a bike.
“We got a screen shot of the guy, put out the post and it got thousands of shares,” Reinhart said. “The next day people see him walking down the street. And he’s wearing the same jacket and he has the bolt cutters with him.”
Reinhart said there are multiple success stories from the use of social media and that sometimes it’s as simple as just providing the police with tips.
“Social media has become one of the best community oriented policing tools that we have. We are more a part of the community now. It really is the trend that everyone goes to,” he said.
The Facebook popularity bears that out. While it has grown to 20,000 likes, the department also has a Twitter feed that is rapidly picking up new followers.
Twitter happens to be Reinhart’s favorite medium and he has created his own Twitter handle.
“I really like Facebook, but I enjoy Twitter much more,” he said. “I can be myself and tell jokes. It allows me to show my personality.”
You can find him at @rrHBPD and follow the police department’s Twitter @HBPD_PIO.
Contact the writer at TDodero@behindthebadgeoc.com