The Waltham Police Deptartment is ramping up its social media outreach and plans to expand efforts in the future, all aimed at keeping residents informed and the department's activities more transparent.
Over the past several months, Waltham Police have taken several strides into the social media universe, debuting a Pintrest page, adding more individual police officers to Twitter and posting new kinds of information on social media platforms.
As a result, residents and reporters can easily access more public safety information overall and in a more timely manner. In the past, the department was using social media less frequently and posting less information.
Several factors have driven the department’s social media efforts, officials said. Officer Robert Williams, who is in charge of the police social media efforts, told Waltham Patch the department realized it needed to improve its efforts or else the public would lose interest in its work.
The department’s efforts, Williams said, have been aimed at creating a collective “voice” and image of the police department. The department, he said, wants to distribute as much info as it can. A few types of information can't be distributed, however.
"We're here to provide information,” Williams said.
Several officers, including Williams, have recently attended social media trainings geared for law enforcement agencies, taken tips from other departments and experimented with different tactics to hone their public safety message, Williams said.
The results? Police have greatly increased the frequency of their Twitter tweets and Facebook posts and expanded the types of information they distribute. They have started tweeting road closures, alerts to watch for suspects and even the identity of a man wanted in a double stabbing.
While police want to provide as much information as possible, they follow several restrictions on what info they can share. The rules are designed to protect officers and the integrity of an investigation, according to Williams. Police can’t tweet information that would compromise privacy rules, an investigation or officer safety, according to Waltham Police Sgt. Dennis Deveney, who recently joined Twitter as a police officer.
Police also can’t distribute info on a person’s criminal history or medical condition, according to Waltham Police Sgt. William Gallant, who heads the Community Services Division and also recently opened a personal police Twitter account.
Also, while the police would like to staff the social media efforts all the time, at the moment, they don’t have enough trained officers, according to Williams. Williams said they plan to add more officers to Twitter and other social media platforms to assure their social media accounts are staffed around the clock.
Eventually, Williams said he wants to turn their online presence into something like BPDNews.com, the Boston Police Department’s hub of its online presence that includes a blog, reports of incidents and notable arrests as well as crime stats and safety tips. Williams said he would want to include RSS feeds, a live Twitter account and more in future expansions.
The department is also developing a YouTube channel and hopes to eventually produce its own videos, according to Williams.
Despite their attempts, some of their efforts have fallen short of the goal, Williams said. The department's Pintrest Page, YouTube videos and Google+ pages have not seen much activity, Williams said. As a result, the department may close those pages.
IMAGE OF POLICE
Police hope the new social media push will improve its image among Waltham residents, Williams and Deveney said. Williams said the social media efforts will make the department more transparent to the public. Deveney said that whenever people know more about how police work, it helps buildings relationships with the community.
“People want info in this day and age and we want to give it to them," Deveney said.
To further bolster their image image, officers try to distribute humorous messages, when appropriate, Williams said. An example – when Williams, through his personal police account, tweeted how WBZ-TV did a story of an officer capturing an errant bird.
“Waltham's perambulating parrot makes the evening news! Go figure. CBS Boston cbsloc.al/O49gtS #wpd,” the tweet read.
“We try to have a little fun with [Twitter],” Williams told Waltham Patch.
Hopefully, the efforts will pay off for not only the police department, but the public as well, Gallant said.
"I think the biggest benefit it has with department and the public is that it creates more trust in the community," Gallant said.
For public safety updates on Twitter: follow @WalthamMAPolice, @SgtBillG, @SgtDevD @OfcBWilliams and @Waltham911Disp