Social media has changed the way law enforcement communicates with the public.
Some use Facebook to reunite lost pets with their owners, to identify criminals caught on security cameras, and to warn citizens of scams. The Taneytown Police Department’s Facebook page provides this and more, but its content balances the serious posts with humorous ones — from a helpful cartoon cop reminding people to lock their vehicles to jokes about the actions of arrestees.
The Times caught up with the man behind the Facebook page, Pfc. Steven Sakadales, to find out how he manages social media.
Q: What’s your role in the management of the Facebook page?
A: I have been managing the police department Facebook page since we started the page in 2015. We try to put a positive spin on policing and maybe make a few people laugh in the process with our posts.
Q: How and when did the humorous spin on the Facebook page start? What’s your goal with these posts?
A: When we started the page it was kept as a "traditional" police social media page, i.e. crime bulletins and crime prevention tips. I follow about 200 police departments (on social media) across the country and about 12 months ago, after seeing the success some departments had with an “unconventional” approach to their posts, we decided to give it a try, and it worked. Our goal with our posts is to “humanize the badge.”
Q: The laughing emoji is frequently clicked on your posts. What kind of reactions have you had from the community — digitally and in-person?
A: My co-workers have told me that people come up to them and tell them that a post they saw on the page made them laugh. Our “Dad Jokes” have been pretty successful in making people laugh.
Q: Some of the posts appear to poke fun at people who’ve been arrested — “Dude for the third time. We're sorry the handcuffs hurt but we can't switch out the real metal handcuffs for pink fuzzy handcuffs. Stop asking.” Are these posts based on real-life situations?
A: Using the post about handcuffs as an example, handcuffs are uncomfortable even when applied properly and we get a lot of complaints about them. We just added a humorous spin to it.
Q: Where do you find your memes? How do you decide what to post?
A: Most of the memes are an original design, some are "borrowed" from other police pages, and a few are sent into the page by our regular followers.
Q: Which post has been the best received? Do you have a favorite?
A: One post, in particular, stands out. In January this year, we posted a video of a near miss with a deer from one of our police car dashcams. The video was seen around the country on the internet and made it on to several international news sites. One of my favorite posts is when we gave alternatives to committing a crime when it was very cold outside like binge-watching Netflix or watching “Cops.” On that particular post, I collaborated in part with my Facebook manager counterpart [Officer Alex Sirois] at the Mount Airy Police Department.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages to using social media as a police department?
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A: There are many advantages for police departments to use social media. Our page has been used to reunite found pets with their owners, locate missing persons, and identify unknown offenders in criminal cases. Another great thing about the page is I'm able to share the good work that my coworkers do on a daily basis that would otherwise go unrecognized.