Snellville PD reaches out to community with social media
By Carole Townsend
SNELLVILLE – “Hashtags.” “Likes.” “Posts.” Snellville Capt. Greg Perry throws these words around with as much savvy as a middle schooler might, and that’s pretty high praise. Perry, Capt. Carey Robert, Sgt. David Matson and even police chief Roy Whitehead are posting, liking and sharing information on Facebook. The good part?
They’re not wasting taxpayer dollars by doing so; they’re actually getting a lot of bang for the department’s buck by using social media to interact with and inform the community.
“We first started using Facebook for the police officers and our families, as a way to stay informed,” Perry said. “It was a closed page just for our use.” But in 2010, Whitehead got the idea to use social media to communicate with the public, especially Snellville and the surrounding areas. “We wanted to reach out to people there (on social media), because that’s where they are,” Whitehead said. Snellville was one of the first cities in the metropolitan Atlanta area to use social media in this manner.
The page is very popular with citizens and business owners, with nearly 7500 “likes” to its credit.
Since 2010, Snellville PD’s page has been instrumental in identifying a crook who was stealing high-end TVs (trying to outrun Snellville cops, only to run out of gas mid-chase), another who was stealing Go Pro cameras from Best Buy stores, and a shoplifter plaguing the local Target store. The page’s value doesn’t stop there. With real-time information sharing, if an offender is fleeing an officer on foot, Facebook posts from people in the community have helped pinpoint a location and sometimes, to apprehend the subject.
The department’s Facebook page (which also links to Twitter, and which displays every pertinent Nixle alert) helps officers inform the community. Whitehead chuckled, remembering when his department began using Facebook. “People really don’t fully understand what the police do. Often, they get their impressions from TV.” Using social media gives his officers an opportunity to share insight into the many duties of the job.
Just as importantly, however, social media helps the department stay informed. The city’s Neighborhood Watch (Snellville Neighborhood Alert Programs, or SNAP, coordinated by volunteer Tricia Rawlins) shares information with the police, and vice versa. “We want to know what’s going on in your communities. No one knows your neighborhood better than you do. Neighbors know if a suspicious car is in the area, because they know which cars belong to which houses,” Whitehead said. “We want to know if there’s a problem, even a potential problem.” The chief went on to add, though, that in any emergency, a call to 9-1-1 or to the police station is still the best choice. “We can’t man the page 24/7. We wouldn’t want someone to post an emergency, and us not see it for an hour or two. People need to know that, too.”
The PD’s Facebook page is also used to publicize high-fives for community achievements. Perry used the department’s recent Halloween costume contest as an example. Parents were asked to post photos of their children in their costumes, and five winners were selected. The prize for those winners was the exciting experience of being taken to school in a police car. Winners younger than school age got a visit from an officer instead. The contest was a friendly way of bringing police officers and children together, the early seeds intended to grow fun, trusting and respectful interaction.
“There’s really no way of knowing how many crimes have been prevented by our use of social media,” Perry said. “When we post about scams or trends we’re seeing in crime, our followers are informed. They’re ahead of the curve. They can be proactive and make smart decisions.”
As the holidays approach, Snellville PD’s Facebook page will feature posts about savvy shopping habits. For example, if a holiday shopper buys an expensive item such as a television or personal computer, he should go straight home, secure the item, then return to finish his shopping. “You have to remember that the bad guys are out there too, watching shoppers, texting to others what they see them purchase,” Whitehead said.
Another helpful tip: Don’t withdraw money from the bank, then leave the cash in the car while continuing to shop or run errands. Too, added Whitehead, shoppers should always make sure they are not being followed.
“We really encourage people to “like” the page, so we can share and educate. You don’t have to live in Snellville to benefit from the information posted there,” Whitehead said. In fact, several news outlets follow the department’s page for timely or even breaking news stories.
It’s been demonstrated time and again by police departments across the country: The more interaction a department has with the community, the more effective their crime prevention efforts will be. Social media is making that interaction possible in ways that communities could never have imagined even ten years ago.
Visit and “like” the Snellville Police Department Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Snellville.Police