SPECIAL REPORT: Social Patrol Part 1

By Millaine Wells, Local 5 News

Published 05/06 2014 02:22PM

Updated 05/07 2014 11:02PM

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) - Area police and fire departments are turning to the internet as a new patrol beat.

They are using social media to connect with the community.

But does the technology help catch crooks?

"I think it has been really beneficial for us" says Fond du Lac Fire Chief Peter O'Leary.

Chief O'Leary's department has been on the forefront of connecting with the community on social media.

"When they see us in the community and say - hey I got your tweet, saw you on Facebook, it is fun to hear that" he says.

Chief O'Leary says social media is critical in crisis communication.

140 characters on twitter can add up to a sense of security when emergency sirens race past your home.

"It saves a lot of time, a lot of phone calls, a lot of calls into our dispatch center that can be very troubling for them when they are trying to deal with an emergency" he explains. 

The Grand Chute Police Chief says his department needs to do better on social media.

"Because everybody else is there. If you are not moving forward you will fall behind. We are not going to be able to reach out to our community and form partnerships with them. Social media today is the way to do that" says Greg Peterson, Chief of Grand Chute Police.

Chief Peterson attended a recent training held in Stevens Point by Chief O'Leary to beef up his playbook.

The main message: build a strong following on social media before a crisis happens.

"If you wait until you have an emergency to use your twitter account, it is going to look like it. It is like somebody who puts on a suit for an interview and they have never worn it before it looks like they put on a suit for the first time" says Chief O'Leary.  

Ashwaubenon Public Safety recently started using Facebook as well.

They have found success promoting community events and fundraising for a new K9 officer.

It is also a new way to track down suspects.

"On social media the word spreads and if a person were to see someone's name on our list that information spreads like wildfire" says Lt. Jody Crocker, with Ashwaubenon Public Safety.

Green Bay Police are also having growing success using social media as a new patrol beat.

In the last year more than a dozen cases have been cracked thanks to help from Facebook sleuths.

Oshkosh reports similar results.

"It has been pretty fantastic" says Officer Joe Nichols with Oshkosh Police. "We put the message out on Facebook, Twitter, we put our media releases out and we will start getting responses within an hour".

Winnebago County Crime Stoppers is also on Facebook. The group implemented a text and web based reporting system four years ago.

"They nearly quadrupled the amount of tips that they get" Officer Nichols explains.

Departments who are already active on social media are not sitting stagnant.

"We hope to start doing podcasts. Putting out brief messages in regards to crime prevention" explains Officer Nichols.  

According to Chief O'Leary " I think we are at a point now where we rely on it. I think the public and media rely on it as well to get official information from our department".  

There are specific strategies police and fire departments use to gain a following on social media.

But sometimes, the public can focus on the negative.

How do officers cope and respond to that feedback?

We answer that question in part two of our special report "Social Patrol" tomorrow night on Local 5 News at 10:00 pm.

We have also compiled a list of area police and fire departments on Twitter and Facebook, so you can link up with them for the most current community information.  

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