This month when a vehicle crash blocked traffic on I-285 at Ashford-Dunwoody Road, a tweet went out. When a new officer was sworn in during a Dunwoody City Council meeting, a tweet went out. And when Dunwoody police obtained an arrest warrant for a suspect who allegedly forged a drug prescription for oxycodone, another tweet went out.
When the 20-month-old Dunwoody Police Department began, most of the officers were not from the Atlanta area.
“Being a brand-new police department, we didn’t know the community,” said police chief Billy Grogan. “We wanted a way to reach out and communicate with the community.” That’s why the idea to use social media was born.
The Dunwoody Police Department is currently being featured on the Web site of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) for its use of social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Earlier this year, Grogan was part of a focus group in Chicago charged with developing ideas for IACP’s Web page on social media.
Grogan, who himself does all the tweeting and posting to Facebook and Youtube, said he tries to give the public various kinds of information through the media, including traffic updates, events sponsored by the department, personnel changes and, of course, information about suspects sought by the police department.
For example, a recent post on Twitter announced that the police department has an outstanding warrant on Levi Stigall for forging a prescription and includes a link to a wanted poster with a mug shot of the suspect.
A video upload to Youtube shows the theft of two cell phones from the display case of the Apple Store in Perimeter Mall. The store security video camera captured the unidentified White male dismantling the security device and pocketing the phones before he left the store.
On Facebook, the department has links to various press releases, including a few about the November murder of Russell Sneiderman outside of Dunwoody Prep.
In addition to using well-known social media, Dunwoody Police Department was the first department in the country to begin using Interactive Defense, a proprietary, social medium that links the police department with neighborhoods to allow direct communication via the Internet.
Grogan said one of the features of the system is to allow residents to notify the police department when they are out of town. Police can then check on the resident’s home and send out a text when the home has been checked.
Although they can be an effective way of communicating quickly and directly with the public, the use of social media by police departments is not yet widespread.
“A lot of police departments are a little apprehensive about using it,” Grogan said.