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Avondale Police boosts social media presence

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The Avondale Police Department's post about a drug-sniffing iguana went viral (Photo courtesy Avondale Police Department)

By Connor Dziawura

There is more to policing than just enforcing the law. This is a sentiment echoed by the Avondale Police Department, which has been increasing its efforts to connect and engage its citizens via social media.

For the past three years, the department has been working to strengthen its influence to its more than 10,000 followers.

“I think there’s a couple of goals,” said Sgt. Thomas Alt of the Avondale Police Department about the social media efforts. “Transparency through the department, humanizing police, showing the personal side of us. We’re not just enforcing laws. There’s a human side to policing as well.”

But how can the department get important information to its followers while still being relatable to citizens? This is a question posed by Katrina Armstrong, community services supervisor for the Avondale Police Department, when planning the department’s approach to social media.

The department accomplishes this with a blend of real news information, pop culture humor and relevant subjects. Photos poking fun of donuts and selfies are just some of the sillier subjects the department tackles. When the city “added” Iroh, its drug-sniffing bearded dragon, the April Fool’s Day joke went viral. The department is also well known for its videos, even having taken part in the Running Man Challenge.

“A lot of times when we deal with the public, people call us because they’re having problems,” said Officer Ray Emmett. “So, we’re dealing with them on the worst day of their life or when something really bad happens. That’s when they call us. So, this is a positive way for us to interact with them, where they’re not calling us with a bad day but we’re having a positive interaction and getting information out.”

The humorous and serious social media posts are the best ways to break down the barrier between law enforcement and the public.

But while the department wants to have fun with it, this isn’t intended to obscure other important topics. Shootings, traffic collisions and natural disasters are just some of the essential information that the department would prioritize.

“It’s a way for us to control our own stories,” Armstrong said. “That when information is put out about either what is or isn’t happening with the department, we’re the ones putting that out there. It’s that actual piece of saying to the community, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ So, that trust can be there. We’re not hiding behind someone else telling what we do here and how we do it.”

The social media team consists of 12 volunteers from a variety of different positions within the department.

“We have lieutenants, sergeants, officers and civilian supervisors, so it’s a mix,” Armstrong said. “It is a very balanced mix of everybody in the department. You have everybody represented in there, which is kind of cool.”

The team and the chief meet monthly and have fun with it, bouncing ideas around to see what sticks.

“A lot of times what is sometimes our craziest idea is actually the idea we go with,” Armstrong said. “We almost do a free brainstorming concept where we’ll sit in the room and Chief will say, ‘OK, what ideas do you guys have?’

“The mantra of the meeting is no idea is a bad idea,” she added.

While there are many different social media platforms, Facebook is the predominant choice for the Avondale Police Department. Twitter may be the fastest way to get information to the public, but Facebook is best for engaging the community and uploading planned videos, Alt said.

In the last year alone, the department’s Facebook followers jumped from around 1,800 to more than 10,000, Armstrong said.

“We all enjoy it, and we do it because we really like where we’re working. We like our citizens. And how else to make it better than something fun to do? And if we get the opportunity to support our citizens in a different light outside of police work, why not?” Alt said.

 
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