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Servant’s Heart: The power of social media

August 25, 2023  By Tom Wetzel


When I became chief of police in 2018, I interviewed every member of the department and learned that there was an interest in getting our agency onto social media, which they had never done before. At that time, I didn’t even have a personal Facebook account, but I thought it was a good idea as many police departments were already running social media accounts.

We started with a Facebook page and, within a short amount of time, it was like Facebook on steroids—we quickly recognized its value for community outreach. It was an excellent tool and I tried to make sure we connected with our community every day in some way, whether it was a safety tip or a post about something good our officers did.

The page morphed into more of a community page as we tried to highlight the people we met while protecting and serving. Those who followed or checked our page learned about all the wonderful people who lived or worked in our city, and many would share comments of support. We also featured fellow public servants who helped us make a difference, and this gave us a chance to showcase coworkers in different city departments, such as our economic development director or our service department foreman.

We would also feature students who were recipients of our “We Tip our Badge to You for Academic Excellence” police scholastic award. It was a way to help support our young people who were good students, and you could tell the parents loved that the police department showcased their bright children. There was one young man named Tran who was a recipient of the award, and he had family in Southeast Asia. We featured him and soon we had people from Vietnam commenting on our page. Talk about outreach! We had people across the globe visiting our page. We also featured an officer who helped deliver a baby on a midnight shift; a video went viral and soon a news organization in Cali, Columbia, ran the video on their site.

The page gave us the opportunity to build bridges of trust with those we served as they, in return, learned about all the good our police officers were doing. In a short amount of time, our page grew by the thousands. I enjoyed putting out posts and decided to make my own police page around retirement time, which I designed to highlight the good done by police officers everywhere. The page has been used to applaud the careers of officers and allows people to send congratulations and love their way. This page also has an ironman feature that applauds the work of current or retired police officers who have served for long periods of time, sometimes four or five decades. It’s also used to pay tribute to officers who have died, as it provides a way to keep their memory and spirit alive, as well as allowing others to learn about their careers of service. In many of these various tributes, it was important to recognize that they were good cops but even better people.

As a man who has been exposed to cops for over 35 years, I know personally of the bravery and kindness that they demonstrate on a daily basis.

There are so many positive things that cops are doing every shift that continue to be overlooked or ignored. The beauty of police social media platform pages is that it allows law enforcement organizations the opportunity to present positive messaging that is not filtered or altered. We control the medium. Police leadership should see social media as a strong tool to highlight all the good that their officers are doing. It’s also a motivation tool for management which can applaud the work of an officer to the public, where in the past, a chief was limited to a letter of appreciation or commendation that only the officer or department members saw. Now the whole community can learn about it. It’s also a good public relations tool as those we serve can see a return on their tax investment when they learn about what their department is up to, what kind of equipment they are using, or what their officers are doing. It clearly demonstrates a commitment to transparency and accountability as well.

The Facebook page (Servant’s Heart: Blessed are the Peacemakers) is a labour of love for me, to be able to showcase different peace officers. Unfortunately, over the years there has been a corrupt and negative narrative about police officers, and I partially blame police administrators who missed the chance to provide a solid counter argument through effective social media messaging. A vacuum was created, and we allowed it to be filled by everyone but us. We were asleep at the wheel and allowed a false narrative to gain traction.

It was demoralizing to see the good guys painted as the bad guys, and as a man who has been exposed to cops for over 35 years, I know personally of the bravery and kindness that they demonstrate on a daily basis. Cops risk their lives every day in service to others and pay a heavy psychological cost for their regular exposure to the suffering and pain of others. Many of our police officers are struggling with PTSD or other ailments as a result and it is taking its toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

These social media platforms provide police agencies with an effective instrument to put the truth out and dispel falsehoods with facts. It allows them to educate our communities about the constant dangers and risks we face, as well as all the compassion and empathy we present to the those that we regularly encounter in our daily tours of duty. Today’s police leaders, whether old school or not, have no excuse not to use these powerful tools of dissemination for the good of our profession.

Tom Wetzel is the recently retired chief of police in Richmond Heights, Ohio, and a former SWAT commander. He is also a certified law enforcement executive, adjunct professor in community policing and internationally published author on police topics.

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