Whether giving details about a shooting, notifying drivers of icy roads or highlighting a good deed, Tri-City law enforcement agencies are using Facebook and Twitter more than ever as a tool in everyday policing.
Officers have been mining social media for years, scouring different platforms to collect information and evidence, some of it to help convict criminals.
But in recent months, more Tri-City police and fire agencies have begun using social media as a way to better connect with citizens and get timely information out to news outlets and the public.
The Pasco, Richland and Kennewick police departments are active on Twitter and Facebook, allowing thousands of followers to track more closely what they might be seeing in their neighborhoods.
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The Kennewick Police Department recently launched new social media pages, while Pasco and Richland have grown their followers during the past year or so.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office also now has more than 1,000 followers on Facebook, and the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office created social media accounts in November.
The world is changing. Technology is advancing and the demands of the community are advancing. We have had to grasp that.
Capt. Ken Roske, Pasco police
Nationwide, police agencies have been using social media for some time.
Twitter and Facebook are excellent platforms to get critical information to millions during major incidents, such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
Here in the Tri-Cities, police say social media has been the most efficient way to disseminate information during small-scale incidents, including neighborhood shootings and car crashes.
People want to know three things: What happened? What we are doing about it? And what we want the public to do? (Social media) is a great tool to answer those questions quickly.
Chief Ken Hohenberg, Kennewick police
The Pasco Police Department, with nearly 7,000 combined followers on Facebook and Twitter, has been the most active department on social media this year.
When Roske took over as spokesman last year, the department put an emphasis on connecting with people and the media through social media.
It’s helped break down barriers in the community, connect officers with citizens and opened another tip line for investigators, Roske said.
When a Pasco teen was gunned down in October near the cable bridge, police took to Facebook and Twitter to help track down two suspects on the run.
“By us putting information out, we are getting more and more calls (from the public),” he said.
Pasco has about a dozen officers who manage its social media pages, and Kennewick has a handful in charge of posting to its accounts.
Officers post things ranging from a synopsis of crimes to officers going out of their way to help citizens.
Roske said one of the most best things has been allowing the community to see what everyday life is like for police. Instead of just reading headlines about major crimes, citizens can now see officers helping fire and crime victims, or be warned about current scams.
We want to make sure the public sees all aspects of what we are doing, not just the cops and robbers stuff.
Capt. Ken Roske, Pasco police
Each department has its own policy on posting.
Pasco has received some slight push back from online commentors after posting certain photos, including a woman with cuts and a man who was naked in the street. The department tries to not show faces of victims or some suspects to protect identities.
Roske said the feedback from most citizens has been positive, and the department hopes to come up with more innovative ways to stay active on social media.
“Public safety is all about making sure the public understands what we do every single day out there,” he said.