Police departments combat negative image with posts on social media

Posted at 4:05 PM, Aug 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-09 16:05:17-04

Michael Brown. Treyvon Martin. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. Korryn Gaines. Freddie Gray.

There are plenty of national headlines that make people question the integrity of local police officers, but what doesn’t always make the front page are the thousands of officers going above and beyond for their communities.

Cpl. John Wachter, a spokesperson for the Baltimore County Police Department, said regardless of the national perception of law enforcement, it’s important for officers to show they’re people, too.

“We’re not just the people who write traffic tickets and write up reports and make arrests,” Wachter said.

He said the relationship with the community is important, even “crucial” to the department’s success. He wants people to see the officers doing good things, so he took that message to social media.

“We started to post pictures of police doing good things,” Wachter said. “To show our officers working in the community.”

During some of the hottest days in July, the Baltimore County Police Department attended the first annual Parkville Community Day and posted a photo album on their Facebook page. Officers played ball with kids, gave helicopter rides and even did some face painting.

Baltimore County isn’t the only local police department sharing images of officers involved in the community.

“It’s important to our police agencies to be a part of the community. We try to be as involved as possible,” Carroll County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Cpl. Jon Light said.

Both Wachter and Light say community service and interaction is nothing new for their departments, but it seems police departments are making more of effort to share these moments on social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

So why now?

Tim Bojanowski is the president of Zest Social Media Solutions in Towson. He says why not?

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Police are taking a beating on social media, so why not use the very same platform to plug a positive message?” he said.

Bojanowski said social media is the perfect platform for police departments because it’s affordable, authentic and widely accessible. He said social media also targets a different consumer than traditional media outlets.

He stressed that there’s a new generation of people who haven’t yet formed their opinions of the world and social media will be their news outlet. Bojanowski said it’s important for police departments to get their message out so that people see a balance.

“[Police] are not just uniforms, but real living, breathing people,” he said.

Light said growing social media platforms is a goal of the department and sharing positive stories is helping them achieve that goal. But he said, it’s more important that the officers are actually out there and getting involved, making an effort to be a part of the community, rather than just telling the story.

Wachter echoed those thoughts. He said everyone wants to get along with the community and the department wants to show the public what they’re doing.

Bojanowski said whether police departments use social media or not, it’s just important to get the message out.

“The reality is that citizens on patrol are really important,” he said. “They are real people, we need to see them handing out ice cream or going out and giving people hugs.”

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