Cops, social media and you
By the end of 2013 Facebook had grown from around 1 million users in 2004 to over 1.2 billion. By the start of May, over 18,000 of those Facebook users from around the globe follow the daily postings from Lee Sjolander, chief of the Kenyon Police Department, on the department’s page.
Sjolander’s posts started as a way to inform the public about the department, he said, and one day he decided to sit down and share some of his thoughts.
The popularity of the page took off from there.
A different message
A man from Kenyon needed a change. He has tattoos on his knuckles from a dark chapter in his life and is on a fixed income, making it difficult to come up with the funds necessary for tattoo removal.
Sjolander wrote about “J” – the name he used in the post to keep the man anonymous – and his desire to remove the tattoos and put that period of his life behind him. “J” told Sjolander he didn’t think anyone would want to help him.
Since writing about “J,” letters of encouragement and donations have poured into the Kenyon Police Department from all over the country. Sjolander set up the first appointment for “J” to start the process of getting the tattoos removed.
Sjolander said “J’s” story isn’t unique and many people in need have received help from the department’s Facebook community.
“I think we’re missing the mark, a lot of us are, on the role of peace officers,” he said. “And in small towns, when you don’t have 50 calls a day, you can really take the time to do more of the good deeds.”
In the beginning
Sjolander was drawn to Facebook for many of the same reasons other law enforcement agencies in the area were – it can be a fast, easy way to communicate with the community.
The Red Wing Police Department’s Facebook page has been up for close to 12 months and Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman said it’s a great way to stay in touch with the public.
“We want to be part of our community, we want to partner with the citizens and I think Facebook allows us to do that,” Pohlman said, who is one of four in the Red Wing Police Department who post on the page.
The Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office also has a Facebook page, which has been up for less than a year, and Patrol Cmdr. Kris Johnson said the later start was by design.
Some of the younger deputies pushed for the integration of Facebook into the work the GCSO does, Johnson said, but department leaders wanted to make sure its use would be beneficial. Johnson said they watched other departments’ use of Facebook and modeled their own use after what they liked from those pages.
While most of the posts are of a positive nature and have received positive feedback, the use of Facebook for law enforcement purposes has open the door for some to post their disapproval for all to see.
Sjolander said some of the posts he’s written have taken on a life of their own and there have only been a few posts he’s had to pull down.
The RWPD’s Facebook page has a lengthy disclaimer which allows the department to show anyone posting on the page what will not be tolerated as well as making sure the right to freedom of speech is not violated.
“That’s what law enforcement is about, it’s about protecting people’s rights,” Pohlman said, adding there have been posts that attack the department, but as long as the posts don’t specifically name an individual officer or citizen, he makes a point of leaving them up.
Sometimes the department takes a beating, he said, but officers let those posts go and try not to take them personally, adding three posts have been removed from the department’s page since they started using Facebook.
The human element
A note was posted on the board in the entryway to the Kenyon Police Department’s office that read “Dear Lee, I have never met you and don’t know who you are but I love your face book posts and on a whim thought I’d see your town. Your words inspire! Thank you.”
The post has 39 comments and 818 likes, and someone from Baltimore wrote she would someday like to come to Kenyon to meet Sjolander.
“It’s awe-inspiring,” Sjolander said of the success of the Facebook page. “It’s scary at times though, too.”
Sjolander received a private message on Facebook one day from someone who said she was contemplating suicide. He chatted with her briefly, clicked on her profile to find out where she lived and contacted the local authorities, who went over to check on her.
Initially she was upset, Sjolander said, but a week later he got a message from her saying she had received some help and was grateful for what he had done.
“I think if you can put a human element to some of that stuff you’re going to save lives and you’re going to change lives,” he said. “The human element, for us, is what’s made (our Facebook page) really, really successful.”
Ultimately, Sjolander said he thinks the interaction his police department has on Facebook has made them all better officers.
Thoughts from Chief Sjolander …
Many of the posts on the Kenyon Police Department’s Facebook page start in this way, but posts also take on thoughts from some of Sjolander’s pets as well as animals in need of a home.
Sjolander said he tries to keep his posts positive and avoid the negative side of keeping the peace.
“I write from the heart and I think people like that,” he said. “What we try to write about here and what we try to show people is we can relate to almost everything we see here in our small town.”
Sjolander said he assumes Facebook will fade at some point, but right now he can’t think of a nicer way to get their message out and share what they do and why they do it.
Many of his messages don’t deal directly with police business. Sjolander said while they do arrest people, write citations and testify in court, he thinks putting positive messages out there and doing things to help the community does more good than anything else.
The KPD has nine total officers, full- and part-time, including Sjolander.
"Like" your local sheriff, police chief, etc.
Local agencies use Facebook as their primary use of communication on social media.
Red Wing Police Department: 1,246 “likes”
Updated around three to four times a week and is mostly used to inform the public of what the department is doing in the community and on occasion ask for the public’s help with information.
Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office: 1,066 “likes”
Updated close to daily with information for the public as well as what the department has going on in the community. Occasionally used to ask the public for information.
Kenyon Police Department: 18,274 “likes”
Updated once or twice per day with personal stories, inspirational stories and sometimes just “thoughts” along with postings similar to other agencies. Some posts reach over 1,000 “likes” with more than 100 comments.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department: 1,199 “likes”
Updated two to three times every two weeks. Posts range from job openings to information on events to weather conditions.