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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > November 2013 > Brimfield Township Police Tally More Than 91,000 Facebook Followers

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Brimfield Township Police Tally More Than 91,000 Facebook Followers

The small community of Brimfield Township, just east of Akron, is home to one of the most famous police departments in social media history, as evidenced by its 91,000-plus Facebook followers. About 7,000 are residents — an impressive total considering the township’s entire population is about 10,500.

David A. Oliver has served as Brimfield’s police chief for almost 10 years and as a member of the department for nearly 20. Since 2010, he and his officers have used Facebook to maintain a constant dialogue with residents and build a positive image of police in the community. Unlike many departments, Brimfield police don’t use Facebook only for announcements or as a crime blotter. Instead, it’s a relationship-builder.
Followers have posted these “recommendations” and many more: “Small-town policing at its best. Check this page and meet Chief Oliver. We all wish our police could be like this.” “Great site. Chief Oliver has his finger on the pulse!! Now this is a guy who trains his people to ‘protect and serve!’ He’s a credit to his profession.” “Informative and great fun, and also uniquely reminds us that we all are connected (90K+ cousins!) and have a purpose greater than ourselves.  Love Chief Oliver and the entire BPD!”
Chief Oliver said his department works hard to be a true community partner. Officers take time to shovel snow and grocery shop for homebound seniors and eat lunch with schoolchildren. The words “not in my job description” are never muttered in the office. The chief starts most days at the local elementary school, high-fiving students as they enter the building.
To see how he and his team use Facebook to further their mission, check out the Brimfield PD’s Facebook page and read the following Q&A for some insights from Chief Oliver.
How do you use Facebook at a police tool?
Facebook has made our department more approachable. People are more willing to help and share information with us. We receive many tips about crimes through the private message function on Facebook. Residents will report things from barking dogs to suspects engaging in a criminal act. This kind of communication and easy access to the department has led to neighbors looking out for neighbors. For example, we had a neighbor message about teens smashing pumpkins on her street. We were able to send an officer over and caught the teens in the act.
Whose responsibility is it to post to the department’s Facebook page?
Every weekday morning I post a morning message or announcement, sometimes titled “chief’s rant.” I share my thoughts or talk about events and issues in the community. Staff will also post reports of interest at the end of shift. We also try to post in real time. For example, I was out on a fire call and knew the road was going to be closed. I was able to put the closure out on Facebook and let residents know as it was happening.
I have heard a few negative comments like, “Must be nice to play on Facebook all day.” But similar comments were also said when we started to use computers in the office. Officers posting during work time are not doing so on their personal pages. Posting on the department page is part of the job. We are communicating with our customers.
One thing I have learned is that you can’t fight all the negative comments on Facebook. I used to try to, but realized you just can’t change some people’s minds. Now, I only correct someone if they say something factually incorrect. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Are you surprised by your success on Facebook?
This has turned into a giant thing. I have been on radio shows and even wrote a book. But because of this success, we are able to do better things for the community. For example, proceeds from the book go to the victim survivors fund, and from that fund, we were able to pay for ballet lessons for a child victim for a year.
Over the summer we had a parade. I jumped on Facebook and invited veterans to come to march, and they did, even in the rain. It has also been a boost to the local economy. The department has also become a destination for travelers. About 15 to 20 people stop by a week wanting to see us and take a photo.
The success required an adjustment for the officers and staff. But now, they are being recognized more and more by residents. It took us a few months to realize people were waving their entire hand to say hi, instead of a select finger. It makes the community feel closer to the department and provides a level of trust.
Is there a blueprint for creating a great Facebook page?
The number one priority is to be consistent by posting regularly. People come to expect it. If I am late with my morning post, I start receiving messages from followers asking if everything is OK. You also can’t be looking to gain money, like by promoting a levy, or only engage when the department needs something. The department must develop a voice in the community and be a true partner.
I also think it is important to have the right mix of information. I personally use a mix of humor and seriousness in my posts. I believe this adds a human element to police work and allows the community to trust us more. Each department will have to find what works for them.
Tell me about your Facebook followers.
It is shocking. We have people following from all over the world. We have followers from 50 states and 29 countries — like Finland, India, Germany, Ireland, Romania, and South Africa. Many of our posts get nearly 100,000 likes. Recently, we had a follower send $7,000 for our Shop with a Cop charity.
For our resident followers, I highlight important posts by saying, “Attention Brimfield residents.” The residents don’t seem to mind that people are interested in the community. The number of followers doesn’t change how we conduct our day-to-day police operation.
How do you think police departments could improve on their Facebook presence?
Facebook and other social media are necessary tools in modern police work. Many agencies treat Facebook as a sterile operating room. It’s more of a crime blotter than a community resource. Agencies are not thinking about the Internet in the right way. There is so much information out there. I consider it working an “Internet beat” — just like walking around a neighborhood. The Internet is a virtual neighborhood that needs police presence.
My philosophy is to bring our friends with us on the call, let the community see what we see and hear what we hear. It gives them a greater appreciation for the work and helps to connect us to the community. We frequently post information about community events, cheer on the high school team, and announce charity opportunities in addition to traditional crime information.
What’s next for your department?
It is important to be aware of what’s out there. For example, Instagram and Snap Chat are newer social medial tools, but probably not the best for police work because the main communication is through photos. We are in the process of developing YouTube videos regarding issues of home security, drugs, and crime prevention. This will be an educational tool available to the public. We are also considering doing more with the Twitter account (the department has about 2,300 Twitter followers), perhaps a tweet-a-long, where officers on calls tweet the progress of the call so people can follow along.
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Jennifer Anne Adair
Deputy General Counsel for Law Enforcement Initiatives