Valley News -

By Jeff Pack
Writer 

#TTownPoPo reaching out to community with social media

 

Last updated 8/23/2018 at 11:46am

Jeff Pack

Some of the Temecula Police Department's social media team stand in front of their offices in Temecula, including from left, Community Services Officer Rivera, Detective Frost, Officer Valadez and Sgt. Collazo. Not pictured are Corporal Nelson and K-9 Officers Cramer who handles Dayka and King who handles Boris.

As many people know, there is a national conversation taking place about law enforcement and how they interact with communities all over the United States.

This story isn't about that issue.

For fans of social media who have spent anytime at all on Facebook or follow the Temecula Police Department, they might have noticed that the department's social media team has some serious engagement game. In fact, they make some of the most successful social media engagement gurus look amateurish at times.

From funny hashtags to clever rhymes used to describe recent arrests – here are some of the highlights in recent posts:

"HOOKED and BOOKED more than FOUR CROOKEDY CROOKs because we LOOKED!"

"Steals a car... Runs away... Gets nabbed by officers later that day!"

"If you were planning on traveling in the area of Jefferson Avenue and Del Rio... just don't. We have a fluid situation developing. It's currently sinking. We were able to quickly clear vehicle traffic but we are looking at a very large sinkhole right at the intersection and traffic is stopped in both directions. Is it Friday yet?"

#nothetrunkfullofmarijuanaisntlegal

#TTownPoPokeepingitrealinthehood

#aintnothinbutathingchickenwing

One thing is clear, the self-described #TTownPoPo are bringing a ton of personality to their page.

"The thing we wanted to do was capture the audience and what better way than to add humor to it?" Sgt. Collazo, who supervises the team of about six department staffers and two canines, said. "You know, cops are funny too. Even though we roll out to all these calls and handle these incidents and serious crimes and stuff like that, we still like to have a little bit of fun."

The whole team agreed, and the purpose of injecting some lightheartedness into the posts is helping to cool any negative reaction that the community might have to news about crime, accidents and tragedy.

"You know, posting about someone stealing from a store and us finding a meth bag, those are the kind of things that everybody in Temecula can read and say, 'Oh my God, how dumb are they?'" Detective Frost said. "But when we poke a little fun at the situation, the reader can then say, 'Wow, (the police) think just like I do, they laugh just like I do.'"

Maybe, instead of focusing on the person that was arrested, the reader is more inclined to focus on the fact that the Temecula Police are doing their job. That change of focus has an overall positive effect on the rest of the department.

"It wasn't the design to change the national narrative about police officers in the community, but it's absolutely an added benefit," Frost said. "You're showing (the public), you know, we're engaged. We actually do care about all these issues. You want to know what we're doing about this; well ask us, we'll tell you."

Using social media to engage with the community is still a relatively new concept for a government-run agency. Some might call it risky for employees of the county to get a little cheeky with their posts.

"It's all about putting the community first," Frost said. "As long as we're doing that and putting the people first and we're in line with our department, I think we're fine."

Here and there across the country, police departments are turning to social media to bridge any perceived gaps between the human beings that are wearing the badge and those in the community.

The team mentioned the overwhelming success of the Bangor Maine Police Department, which despite having a population of around 31,000 people, has a Facebook page with almost 290,000 followers.

"Yeah, we look at likes and follows, and we joke around with that; we want our 10,000 followers," Frost said. "We laugh about the Bangor Maine Police Department that has their Duck of Justice in their lobby, and we think it's great. It's time to humanize the badge. We're just people too."

Make no mistake, the members of the social media team aren't just sitting around on their cell phones posting photos with witty commentary. Every person – and canine – on the team has responsibilities in the field.

"We are in cars. We're handling calls for service," Collazo said. "We only have a certain amount of time to interact with the public, so this is just another one of those tools that we use so we are able to engage everybody."

Back in the day, as they say, if a citizen knew that the police were involved in an incident in their community and wanted information, they had to wait for the next day's newspaper, go to the station or call the police directly. That situation isn't alway ideal, for the citizen or the department.

"We just had a post about a brush fire that we had, and it was great because people were wondering what's going on, why is there traffic backed up?" Officer Valadez said. "So that information is being put out there. It's been great for the public, for the citizens of Temecula."

The department also uses the page to educate the public about very serious issues facing the community, but they try to do the educating by adding a little personality to the conversation.

"For the people that live in Temecula, they like to know what's going on in their city, and we try to make it interesting," Valadez said. "The way the citizens are engaging back with us in the comments section and even the amount of followers that we are getting – we have like what, more than 8,000 followers now? – that's a great measurement of who's looking at us. We're giving information out in a positive light, and they're liking it."

In addition to the posts they make several times daily, the officers said they spend a considerable amount of time responding to private messages sent to the page and responding to comments on the page and local community groups.

"Before we starting doing this, people would see what was going on (in the community) on sites like Temecula Talk, and everyone would make up their own story. 'Somebody killed somebody and lit the house on fire ...' and it wasn't anywhere near the truth," Community Services Officer Rivera said. "We are doing this also to get the correct information out there."

The team also promotes events like Coffee with a Cop, which Collazo said the department uses as an outlet to discuss topics with the community.

Courtesy

The Temecula Police Department's social media team has made a concerted effort to connect with the community while being educational.

"I have to say with the coffee with the cop, we could measure our success very well," Frost said. "We've had those several times before, and you didn't have as many people show up. This time we promoted the heck out of it, and it was, I thought, a huge success. There were so many people there."

In addition to Collazo, Frost, Rivera and Valadez, the team also consists of Officer Cramer who is K-9 handler for Dayka, Officer King who is the other K-9 handler for Boris and Cpl. Nelson.

The team is thoughtful of what and how they share information with the community and proud of what they have accomplished so far, especially their supervisor.

"This has just been a huge success for us so far," Collazo said, turning to his team. "And it's all a credit to them."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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