Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler said the reason more law enforcement agencies are using social media is pretty simple.
“It’s an effort to stay current with current trends,” Tyler said. “There are different demographics that are getting news and information from social media outlets. Using them, along with the more traditional media outlets, allows us to reach a larger audience.”
Facebook, Twitter and similar websites are becoming vital parts of law enforcement officer’s tools, just like a pistol and handcuffs, officials said.
In a recent survey by Government Solutions, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among the social media outlets used by law enforcement agencies.
Haywood Talcove, CEO of Government Solutions, said law enforcement is taking to social media to take down criminals.
“It’s a tool and is as valuable as a police cruiser or a handgun,” Talcove said.
Most law enforcement agencies in the Shoals area have websites. Some have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
“These are great tools to get information out to the public, and especially reach our younger population,” Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan said.
“So many of the younger people don’t read newspapers or watch television news, but they’re online and on Twitter.”
Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver said his deputies often use the department’s website.
“Not only do we put information on the site for the public about what’s going on in the county, but we also list registered sex offenders as well as a most-wanted list,” Oliver said.
He said deputies have received tips on the website that led directly to the arrest of 15 people.
“We use the technology quite a bit. We tweet, we have a Facebook page and a website,” Russellville police Lt. Scotty Lowery said. “And it works. It gets information out and gets it out fast.”
Dr. Bradley M. Okdie, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Ohio State University at Newark, said law enforcement agencies are realizing how far reaching the social media network is. He said the wisdom of several is greater than the wisdom of one.
“Not just law enforcement but everyone (realizes) you can reach a lot more people (with social media) in a very short time,” Okdie said. “Instead of having to go door to door to look for someone, with one click of a button, law enforcement can reach thousands of people.”
Tyler said social media such as Facebook and Twitter is more interactive that a website.
“It’s real time, particularly Twitter, and the beauty is all of those sights or kinds of social media outlets can communicate with each other,” Tyler said.
He said on the department’s website there is a link to crimereports.com, where anyone can log on and see where crimes are happening in the city.
Oliver said social media is helpful in getting information to the public.
“Whether it’s someone we are looking for or something about weather or a road closing,” Oliver said. “We’re reaching people that we might not have ever reached before.”
Okdie said the social media also gives the public a chance to be additional help to law enforcement.
“The information is out there and most of the time someone saw something that can be useful to law enforcement,” he said. “And the public is using technology to get that information to law enforcement.”
Logan said technology has always been a tool for law enforcement and with the development and growing popularity of the social media it’s becoming more and more value to authorities.
“In the age we live in, resources are getting more scarce. Money is tight,” Logan said. “But the commitment to the public that we serve hasn’t changed. We have to do more with less.
“We have to work smarter and take advantage of every resource out there. The social media outlets is a resource that we are all now tapping into. In the age we live in, information is priceless.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.