WARNER ROBINS -- The public is invited to patrol the streets Thursday night with a Warner Robins police officer, but residents wont actually be in the vehicle. Instead theyll be able to follow along virtually through Twitter.
The agency is offering its first Virtual Ride-Along through the social media service from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Tabitha Pugh, the agencys public information officer, said shell tweet about calls for service, potential arrests and whatever else comes up during the eight hours shell be riding along with the officer. She said she expects to include some photographs and possibly some short videos along the way to create a more visual experience for followers.
Were very excited about it, said Pugh, who will tweet from the agencys handle -- @WarnerRobinsPD.
More agencies turn to social media
Warner Robins police arent alone in embracing social media in Middle Georgia. Macon police use Facebook and Twitter to send out news releases, crime tips and good news about the department. Other public safety agencies such as Unadilla Fire Rescue and Baldwin County Fire Rescue are social media savvy as well.
Baldwin County Fire Rescue Chief Troy Reynolds said his agency started its Twitter account on Aug. 25, 2009 to get information out to the media and public.
At the time, a scanner buff was picking up the agencys emergency radio traffic and tweeting information based on what was on the scanner. Some of the information wasnt accurate because the tweeter was only hearing bits and pieces of radio traffic and didnt know the whole story, Reynolds said.
As a result, instead of someone tweeting half-accurate information about the fire and rescue calls, the agency started tweeting, Reynolds said. The agency launched its Facebook page April 1, 2011.
Weve had a great response, Reynolds said.
The agency has more than 200 Likes on Facebook and more than 400 followers on Twitter. Its Facebook page reached 777 people between Nov. 1 and Nov. 7 when the agency posted information about a bomb threat at Georgia College & State University, its evacuation and later the all clear after the false alarm. The agency also posted fire safety tips for holiday cooking that week as well as information about changing smoke detector batteries when the time changes.
Its very beneficial, Reynolds said. The local papers follow us. We put out a lot of information ... Kids Yule Love toy drive, our Firefighter of the Year ... accident scenes.
Its the way of the future of communications, and its instant. For budget reasons, it doesnt cost anything. You get a lot of publicity for just a little bit of time to get it established and set up.
Whats happening locally is mirrored nationally. Embracing social media was among the major themes of the 2012 International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference held in San Diego in October.
Some of the reasons for using social media touted among law enforcement agencies include fostering public relations with the community and putting a face on law enforcement, adding another crime-fighting tool that encourages public interaction and being able to better control the dissemination of information. Some critics argue the latter may not necessarily be in the publics best interest.
Not for everyone
Nonetheless, not everybody is ready to jump on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagons.
Allison Selman-Willis, public information officer for the Monroe County Sheriffs Office, said the agency doesnt use Facebook or Twitter but prefers to have its own website.
With Twitter and Facebook, you have limited opportunity for output but lots of opportunities for input whether its a commendation or complaint, she said. You cannot put out bolos (be-on-the-lookouts) or press releases or forms for the public.
But with the website, all of that type of information may be incorporated as well as ways for the public to privately contact the sheriffs office instead of putting it on Facebook for the whole world to see, Selman-Willis said. And whos going to tweet? The sheriff? The public information officer? Each division head?
For a smaller agency, she said the website was just a better pick.
The website is just the best avenue, she said. At some point, we may revisit and decide we want to do all three. ... But the website seems to meet our needs and the needs of the community better.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.