ROCHESTER, Minn. – The impact of police-involved shootings can go far beyond the communities where they happen and can lead to increased tension between the public and police. In an effort to break down barriers and interact with the public in a new way, law enforcement agencies in our area and across the country are turning to social media.
If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen the latest #LipSyncChallenge craze. The Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office was one of hundreds of departments to create a light-hearted video for their social media followers. The response? According to Sheriff Kevin Torgerson, very positive.
Just in the last week and a half now, we've gained over 1,000 new people watching our page," he explains.
By stepping up their social media game, Sheriff Torgerson says they’ve been able to reach and connect with more people than ever before.
“Our overall motivation is to get them really good solid safety information, public safety information to help them with their daily lives; I hope people see it that way,” he adds. “As we go around and do the crazy things like milking cows or whatever on the other side of it we want to get them really good information."
Information like weather, traffic and safety alerts are now being posted to the department’s pages. On Wednesday for example, OCSD took to Twitter and Facebook to let their followers know 9-1-1 services were being interrupted. Torgerson tells us weekly posts that feature five individuals with active warrants get a lot of attention on social media. “Most Wanted Wednesday” videos lead to a spike in the number of tip calls and messages they receive.
Just over a year ago the Olmsted Co. Sheriff’s Office hired a Media Development Specialist who’s focus is to increase the department’s presence on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Other departments like Kasson PD and the Minnesota State Patrol have started doing “virtual ride alongs” where they live-Tweet on patrol to give the public a better idea of the types of calls they go on any given night.
Being so accessible through social media has made it possible for the Olmsted Co. Sheriff’s Office to make new, important connections with citizens on, and offline.
"Even last night, I was out to eat with my uncle and you know you get those comments, we saw your video thanks for doing that so it's people again interacting not only on social media but now out in public they're seeing us as approachable and now there's a connection that maybe we didn't have before or a barrier that's now been broken down,” Torgerson explains.
The hope of local law enforcement officers is this online effort will change the way some view the police.
"We're normal folks, we have families with kids and dogs and cats and we just want to help our community in any way possible and if it means to put out some kind of light hearted video that people look at and go, "Wow that's pretty neat," then that's alright."