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October 2017 | Volume 10 | Issue 10

Law enforcement and other first responders have used public engagement on social media to good effect in the recovery from Hurricane Irma. The Gainesville (FL) Police Department posted selfies of officers and community members that received positive comments about the officers’ work and good looks. The department responded with a combination of humor and important information about the work of law enforcement, and the photo thread went viral. Other agencies from Florida, Louisiana, and beyond posted officer selfies in response, and the playful banter helped to raise funds for recovery in communities impacted by the hurricane.

Officer Ben Tobias, Gainesville PD spokesperson, uses social media (@GainesvillePolice @GainesvillePD), and the Police Beat television show as a two-way channel of engagement. “Social media is a balance of: content to engage the community, tasteful humor, and relevant information” says Tobias, who is also President of the Florida Law Enforcement Public Information Officers Association (FLEPIOA).

The agency established a Facebook and Twitter account in 2009, but made social media a priority in 2012. Tobias did research on the technology as well as on his local community, aiming to “understand the digital footprint” of Gainesville. The community includes University of Florida, which has over 50,000 students plus staff and support services, and represents about half of the local population.

Tobias stresses that social media is an important part of community relations for any agency. “All our press conferences are streamed on Facebook Live so that citizens can hear everything we have to say, rather than just short clips on the local news.”

Gainesville PD contracts with a local production company to produce the monthly Police Beat television show, but he stresses that any agency can use social media. He recommends resources such as the National Information Officers Association and the Public Information Officers Section of IACP, as well as FLEPIOA, which has their annual conference October 22–25, 2017, at Sandestin Resort.

“Focus on relevant information that is important to the community,” Tobias states. Trust and a proven track record over time will support the use of social media as a communication tool. And if there is negative response, Tobias has advice for agencies and PIO: “Respond to the group, not the individual. If a post has negative feedback, capture it for public records, but remove it from social media, apologize, and move on.”

Tobias continues to balance work in Irma recovery efforts with his regular PIO duties – the department has been working 12-hour shifts to help the community. And, he continues to post information about the amazing work of Gainesville PD and first responders.

For more information about their work, contact Officer Ben Tobias via Twitter at @GainesvillePD.

Officer Ben Tobias
Gainesville PD Spokesperson

Elizabeth Simpson

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