Protect, serve and tweet: Suburban PD finds success with social media

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When Deputy Chief Andy Johnson helped launch Hanover Park Police Dept’s social media program one year ago, the idea was to get the public more involved in community policing, safety and to create an open police department.

Its reach even surprised him.

“A homicide occurred in a neighboring community and we distributed a bulletin for that,” he said. “We received over 90,000 views in a very short time.”

Today the department operates multiple pages on Facebook, a YouTube channel, law enforcement Nixel alerts, a smart phone app and a Twitter account.

Like many departments across the country, crime alerts are posted to sites and the YouTube channel contains surveillance video. But in Hanover Park, it’s not just posting information for area residents, instead it’s communicating with them - 24/7, 365 days a year.

Officers will also take Twitter and Facebook followers on virtual ride alongs. In an entire shift they post dozens of status updates, photos and videos of things as they happen up to the minute.

Deputy Chief Johnson says the open book concept is much more proactive, puts names to faces and aims to make the public feel more comfortable with police. But at a risk. It comes in a day and age when police departments are coming under heavy scrutiny from communities.

Hanover Park police have seen critical comments as well and they say it is okay.

“There is some concern I think that if a police department is running a Facebook page, that everything has to be polished and clean and positive all the time,” Johnson said “And the reality of police work is everything isn’t always positive all the time. We are engaging with the public. We don’t just use it as a billboard to advertise us because I think that defeats the purpose of social media and what it’s designed for. I think that would let the citizens expectations down.”

Since the program launched officials credit it for increasing attendance at community functions, helping keep crime rates low and boosting both public and police confidence in one another.

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