LINO LAKES, Minn. (KMSP) - A big challenge facing police departments these days is how they connect with their communities. But the Lino Lakes police department has found a way to not only connect with its people, but also earn their trust.
"I'm putting on the Facebook page that we're out doing seatbelt enforcement and ask people to please buckle up,” Adam Halvorson, Lino Lakes Police Department, said.
But a heads-up on social media only works if people are paying attention. And how many people could possibly be engaging with the Lino Lakes Police Department on Facebook and twitter? The answer is in the thousands.
"Our view of social media is that it is a modern day foot patrol,” Sgt. Kelly McCarthy said.
For three years, McCarthy has been the primary voice behind the department's now wildly popular, funny, and informative social media presence.
“You just have to realize that people have access to this information so why not be a part of the conversation instead of letting it just run away from you,” McCarthy said.
But she learned early on that to get people into the conversation, you have to get their attention. One of her greatest hits was a serious warning about a rash of garage burglaries, drenched in snark (see tweet below).
“People closed their garage door. It worked,” she said. “I mean how many ways can you tell people to close their garage door to make it interesting."
But not everyone wants their cops to be “interesting.”
"It varied from 'you guys are unprofessional’ to ‘you're gonna get someone killed.’ And I'm like, ok, that escalated quickly, might've been an overreaction, Sir. I don't think a glib Facebook post is gonna get anyone killed. But he was certain. He was wrong by the way,” McCarthy said.
To quiet the critics and better represent a variety of voices, McCarthy decided to give everyone in the department free reign on social media.
“When some people hear that we let anyone post on Facebook it makes them a little bit nervous, specifically administrators,” McCarthy said. “But we trust these people with guns. I'm gonna trust you with a Facebook login."
Any remaining skeptism faded though once the community and the department realized how powerful this social media tool was. Posts like these were reuniting people with the things they loved, opening up a dialog about sensitive issues, and even solving crimes.
"The bank robbery we put the pictures out the information out within maybe two hours of the robbery and we had our suspect in custody two days later,” McCarthy said. “And our liquor store robbery was a direct result of Facebook."
McCarthy says it's crucial that relationships between cops and their communities are always authentic, both on the streets and online.