Last updated: April 03. 2014 10:43AM - 3498 Views
Steena Hymes shymes@civitasmedia.com

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In a whole new era of crime fighting, social media has proven to be a useful tool among local law enforcement in catching the bad guys and informing the public.

Though Facebook has sustained its popularity for over a decade, only in the last two years have the LaGrange Police and Troup County Sheriff’s Office begun utilizing its resources.

The LaGrange police started its Facebook page in 2012, and the TCSO started its at the start of 2013. Since its inception, both departments report that the public feedback and engagement has been positive.

Stewart Smith, public information officer with the TCSO, runs the Facebook page and said its page averages 15 “likes” a week. The TCSO Facebook page currently has 3,638 likes.

Smith said he tries to balance positive posts with case information.

He said the mission of the page is “to promote the department and to fight crime.”

The LaGrange police currently has 4,012 likes which has increased since the start of its T-shirt giveaway contest. Starting several months ago, the department starting randomly selecting one individual who liked their page for every 250 likes it received.

The page also allows law enforcement to inform the public during state of emergencies. During the ice storm this year, Smith said the “likes” on Facebook increased substantially, gaining several hundred in that time

“One thing I do like about Facebook is you can go down and see how many shares you got, how many total people reached,” Smith said.

When Smith posted about the string of burglaries in West Point Road area, it reached over 2,600 people between shares and likes he said.

“You can reach thousands of people with one click of the mouse, and those people are going to share it,” Smith said.

Not only does social media allow officials to engage with the public, it also has helped solve cases and gain necessary information.

“We have actually captured some individuals because of the Facebook page,” Smith said.

Pritchett said the most popular posts on the page are those for wanted or missing individuals. He said the Facebook page has helped find missing people.

Specifically, in the case of Kyndall Cobb who went missing, police found her through a tip from Facebook.

In the case of missing Destiny Sprayberry, the post was shared over 2,000 times and seen by 62,000 people, more than twice the city’s population.

“It circled the world in just a matter of days,” Pritchett said.

As with all social media, due to the constant feed of comments both positive and negative, Smith and Pritchett both said they have to be on top of the page constantly to filter out content.

Smith said he tries not to delete posts to the Facebook page, however he does keep the page clean of profanity as a way to protect the department.

“I let people vent, but if they’re using foul language or just going crazy, then I will probably go hide it,” he said.

Though it rarely happens, Smith said he has had to ban individuals from the page.

Pritchett runs the page along with three others at the LPD and said at any given moment at least one of them is on the page monitoring activity.

“Folks will get on here and want to bash the police and want to curse and use profanity,” he said. “Its hard to police all these people that get on here.”

The LaGrange Police Facebook currently has a filter in place that automatically blocks any content with profanity.

Pritchett said one thing he has shied away from on the Facebook page is posting mugshots.

“We did it a few times and folks lose their mind,” he said. “You got some folks that are automatically the judge and jury… it’s like a giant uncensored court room.”

Both Pritchett and Stewart went through social media training from experts who taught them the do’s and don’ts on Facebook such as how to to keep the page alive, how often to update, what to post and how to best engage the public.

“It was awesome. I would recommend any law enforcement that has a Facebook page or is responsible for being a page manager, that they take a training course,” he said.

With social media being the medium to reach the most amount of people, Pritchett said the best set of eyes and ears is the public and Facebook helps magnify and utilize those resources.

“I have a bigger reach than anybody in this department has every dreamed of,” Pritchett said. “In a few key strokes, I can reach thousands of people in a few minutes. That is incredibly powerful.”

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