After Billy Grogan started the job as Dunwoody’s first police chief at the end of 2008, he immediately knew the police department would need a strong online presence.
“We were a new city, incorporated on December 1, 2008, and with a brand new police department, we really had no connection to our community,” Chief Grogan explained. “We knew we would be going to meetings but this community is very engaged on the Internet, and social media is another way to engage in our community.”
Engage is what the Dunwoody Police Department did, launching a Twitter account the day the police department began official operations on April 1, 2009. Dunwoody officers continue to tweet about arrests, interesting calls for service, staff accomplishments, crime prevention information and traffic problems as well as various other items of community interest. Grogan writes a blog and Facebook, YouTube and Interactive Defense are in the department’s social media tool kit as well.
Dunwoody was the first police department in the country to use Interactive Defense. This social media tool facilitates communication between residents and officers and allows residents to sign up for home watches while they are on vacation, view a list of wanted and missing people and receive emails directly from officers about suspicious activities and crimes.
The police department also engages in social media “experiments.” One recent successful experiment had the department tweeting every call for 24 hours, prompting an enormous response from the media and from residents. Television and print outlets covered the “experiment” and the department expanded its social media reach with new Twitter followers and Facebook likes from residents, journalists and other Dunwoody stakeholders. Today, the Dunwoody Police Department has more than 3,000 Twitter followers and more than 1,600 Facebook likes.
“The Dunwoody Police tries to be very informative to the residents so they know what the police department is doing to keep their community safe,” said Dunwoody Councilmember John Heneghan. “They do an awesome job that is very transparent and cutting edge. It is an investment in time and effort, and not that much money, but I think it makes a better community and a safer community. ”
The department’s social media efforts also build community support for the police department, Grogan said. “It’s been very beneficial to have that dialogue with the community, you can have a meeting once a month or once every other month with the community but with social media you are engaged every day.”
Grogan’s advice to other police departments considering using social media is: Do it but start slow.
“There are thousands of social media applications out there, pick one to start and concentrate your efforts there,” he said.
Grogan travels the state and the country talking about the department’s social media use and he has noticed that for some agencies, there is a fear factor.
“A lot of people are afraid that if they open up an Internet dialogue people will make negative comments, but for us that hasn’t been the case at all,” he said. “Instead we’ve gotten a lot of positive interactions that occur between the city, the police department and the citizens. Occasionally, there is a negative comment but you address it; you don’t ignore it.
“If you are a city or police department and you are not engaged in social media, you are missing a potential great benefit to your city and police agency. It’s like when cars came out and your still riding around in a horse and buggy.”
Grogan is currently exploring ways to expand the department’s use of social media.
“We want to continue to develop our YouTube channels with crime prevention and other public service announcements,” he said. “I also think there are some potential uses for law enforcement in Foursquare, where someone could check-in at a particular place and be able to get crime prevention tips when they check-in.”