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Earning community trust online


December 3, 2015
By Danette Dooley

849 words – MR

Earning community trust online

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are known for their terrific sense of humour so it should come as no surprise that the provincial police force draws on the wit of a couple officers in attracting the public to its social media initiatives.

It is all about ensuring the public see another side of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) officers, said Cst. Geoff Higdon, who helps look after the constabulary’s Facebook page and other social media activities.

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One of the most popular RNC press releases was released on July 22 when the force went looking for the missing season – Summer.

<Summer was last seen in early August of 2014. When last seen Summer was described as being between 20 – 30 degrees Celsius, blue skies with a bright and warm source of light in the sky. There have been sporadic sightings of this bright object, but these sightings have been rare since May 2015.

The RNC are taking this matter very seriously. An investigative team has been assembled. The Chief of Police, William Janes, has also taken an active role in this file and is travelling abroad in an effort to locate Summer.>

The release went on to note that officers were looking for two persons of interest – NTV meteorologist Eddie Sheerr and CBC weatherman Ryan Snodden. The arrest of the two culprits was captured on camera, much to the delight of television viewers across the province.

When the release was posted to the RNC Facebook page, it was shared more than 3,000 times. Most major Canadian media outlets, as well as and the in the United States, picked up the story.

“That was a bit of fun but it’s all about connecting with the community,” Higdon said. “We strive to be a very community-oriented police force and I think in order for us to be successful in crime prevention, you need to have the trust of the community.

“I think you build that trust by showing that you are human, you can make mistakes and you can have a bit of fun. That way, people are more likely to reach out to you.”

Higdon said the RNC Facebook page was started more than three years ago as a tool to attract new recruits to the force.

While serving a short stint as the force’s media relations officer, Higdon suggested that the force should also have a Twitter account as an extra tool to get information out to the public.

Higdon researched what other police forces were doing and the RNC launched its official Twitter account in March 2014. It now has more than 27,000 followers.

“This is a great way for police to talk to people,” Higdon said.

The RNC recently started a “Wanted Wednesday” post on its Facebook page, posting a photo and name of a criminal at large.

The public is quick to offer tips when they see the photo, Higdon said, either by using Facebook inbox messaging or by calling the RNC or Crime Stoppers.

The initiative has led to the arrest of all but one of the criminals.

“Everybody is somehow connected with everybody in the community. You might not know somebody yourself but someone you know may know them. That’s the whole thing with social media.

“Newfoundland and Labrador has about 375,000 Facebook users. We’re not going to have all them click the link on our page but we have 20,000 and they share our posts with their friends and then they share it,” Higdon said.

Higdon said a Back to the Future joke he posted in October garnered 900,000 hits.

Since the RNC has started using social media as an investigative tool, Higdon said, there has been an increase in calls to Crime Stoppers.

“We are seeing anywhere from 1.4-1.5 million impressions through Twitter in a 28-day period and we are seeing more than 150,000 people traffic through our Facebook page every seven days.”

A self-described social media nerd, Higdon said he enjoys keeping up on the latest in social media trends.

“Social media is the next big thing. The term Facebook is in the dictionary now. It’s been adapted by the Criminal Code. It’s a part of our society that’s not going away.”

While people of all ages, including seniors, are familiar with Facebook, Higdon said, he uses Instagram to connect with the younger generation.

Higdon, an RNC patrol officer, and the other officers involved in RNC social media initiatives do so in addition to their regular duties.

Higdon recently attended the (SMILE) conference where more than 150 police officers from around the world shared their ideas on how to use social media to improve law enforcement and engage citizens.

“We need support from the community in order to be an effective police force. We need the people’s trust and confidence. We are starting to see that (social media) needs to be a more permanent fixture in our organization,” he said.

dooley@blueline.ca