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December 5, 2012

Ferndale police seeking followers for Twitter page

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — Sgt. Baron Brown misses the days when police officers were a bigger part of the community they serve, and he hopes that the Ferndale Police Department’s new Twitter page can fill some of that void.

“Before they changed the law, it used to be that every Ferndale officer had to live here, too, so we all knew everybody in town,” he explained. “We just want to bring that feeling back a little bit. We’re really trying to improve the relationship between the Police Department and the residents — that’s the bottom line. We don’t want people to feel like we’re this imposing army, because that’s not the truth.”

The department’s Twitter page, which can be found at https://twitter.com/FerndalePolice or @FerndalePolice, went live Oct. 15 with what Brown called a “24-hour tweet-a-thon.” Since that time, Ferndale police have sent out more than 100 tweets on topics ranging from safety tips and special event reminders to traffic updates and public service announcements.

Brown is currently the only Ferndale officer who utilizes the page, but he hopes that its usage will soon spread to every shift commander in the department. Luckily, he had some help from a “mentor” while launching @FerndalePolice: his wife, who sends out tweets for the Auburn Hills Police Department’s Twitter page.

“This is just another form of having an officer on a beat who’s communicating with neighbors face-to-face,” Brown said. “We send out a lot of cautionary tweets, but at the same time, we also try to keep it light and personal and use some humor. Eventually, I’m hoping that it can evolve into a tool to manage real-time events and inform people about what’s going in the community.”

But according to Police Chief Tim Collins, using Twitter to alert residents about serious crimes as they are happening might be a path littered with obstacles.

“That could prove to be rather problematic, given our current staffing levels for each shift,” he said. “We just don’t have enough officers on duty at any given time to be worrying too much about Twitter. My fear is that it will get to the point where the public expects us to tweet every piece of important information and then gets upset when we don’t. So we want to send out real-time information whenever possible, but we can’t guarantee that we always will.”

Brown agreed that this strategy could quickly become a slippery slope, but he believes that the solution is a rather simple one.

“We’re still on a learning curve with this, so we will have to prioritize how important we feel it is at any given moment,” he said. “Obviously, getting information out there on Twitter is not nearly as important as dealing with a dangerous situation. But we do want to inform the public as soon as possible.”

Brown noted that police agencies all over the world, especially in the United Kingdom and Canada, have been joining the social media craze in recent years. Collins, while more skeptical of the trend, acknowledged its value in communicating directly with the residents whom a police department serves.

“To me, this is still a very new thing, so we’re still figuring out how we’re going to utilize it,” he said. “But we recognize that the ways that people get their information are changing. I guess this is the wave of the future, so we need to get everyone in our department on board with it — even the old dogs.”

Mayor Dave Coulter is also supportive of Ferndale police’s Twitter endeavor. He pointed out that the city administration is currently using five social media websites — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and Foursquare — as tools to reach out to Ferndale residents.

“This is really just a sign of the times,” Coulter said. “People get their information from different sources today than they used to, and we’re always trying to stay on top of those trends as a city. I think what this can really do is help to minimize a lot of the rumors and gossip that can spread so quickly and easily in a small town like Ferndale. If something is happening in the community, we want to make sure that people are getting accurate information from a credible source.”

At press time, the Ferndale police Twitter page had only 181 followers, but Brown is confident that those numbers will soon start to rise.

“Ideally, we would like to have every resident of Ferndale following us on Twitter,” he said. “Right now we don’t have very many followers, but we’re gaining more and more every day. We would love for it to get to the point where people log on each day and look forward to seeing what we’re tweeting.”

For more information on  @Ferndale Police, call (248) 541-3650 or visit www.ferndalepolice.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.