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ELPD focused on transparency, targeting college students with social media

October 9, 2017
Photo by State News File Photo | The State News

East Lansing Police’s social media presence is far more than just funny “tweet alongs” and snappy responses

It’s been a longstanding effort to engage with the public to establish trust.

Patrol Officer David Dalen said ELPD had been working for a long time to increase its trust with everyday people, partly from on-again-off-again culture that’s emerged from police brutality gone viral. 

“Our primary goal as a police station is to help people, so that’s the message we want to send forward,” Dalen said. “If you need help, come to the police. That’s what we’re here for.

“What we want to show is that police officers are humans and we want to people to come to us for help. We don’t want people to be afraid of us. We (even) put out a post about medical amnesty: if you consume too much alcohol, we don’t want you to be afraid of getting an MIP by calling 9-1-1.”

Dalen, an East Lansing native and MSU graduate, said when he was hired in January, he was asked to take part in their growing social media team. 

The department’s growing sentiment to reach out to the community started with former Chief of Police Jeff Murphy. Before Murphy retired in July, he expanded patrol officers’ use of body cameras and participated in many public forums to gage what the East Lansing community wanted from its officers.

When new Chief of Police Larry Sparkes replaced Murphy in August, he said it was his goal to expand his predecessor’s public outreach work. ELPD announced they’ll invite the public to the city building on Oct. 19 for pizza with Sparkes, and a chance to ask him anything.

"I want to increase communication between within the community and also within the police department, and I think you do that through community outreach," Sparkes told The State News in August. "You work with others to resolve issues. The best decisions, as I’ve said, are made collectively, when everyone has a voice and that is certainly what we intend to do at the East Lansing Police Department."

So cue the social media team. Dalen said from vlogs, to live streams, to a simple tweet, ELPD has the power to engage citizens, especially its college-aged ones through the power of social media outreach.

Those are things Dalen deals with on a daily basis in addition to his patrol duties.

“There’s really no set job description,” he said. “Our is just to reach out to the community in a unique way and try and connect with people any way we can.”

So The State News sat down with Dalen to ask him about ELPD’s evolving approach to philosophy. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: As a police department, why is it important to target younger demographics and reach out to younger audiences?

With East Lansing it’s a younger community. Obviously we have MSU and the students, but generally our community is younger professionals. So social media was kind of a way to bridge that gap between our police department and the younger audience and the students and people who live in East Lansing who might not have any other interaction with us besides getting pulled over or getting in trouble, getting an MIP. So it’s kind of a way for us to reach out to them and that we’re people too, we’re humans too and we think the same things.

We think 21 Savage is a good rapper just like you think 21 Savage is a good rapper. We like the same things you like. Just because we have a badge, at the end of the day a lot of our officers are probably pretty close to the same age as some of the people in our community.

Q: When you post, do you try and coincide your posts with current memes?

We try to stay on topic with whatever we’re posting. The ultimate goal is public safety and reaching out to the community. We try and do that with a bit of a humorous undertone. Or else is we just sat here and told you ‘Don’t drink too much. Don’t do this,’ it’s going to get kind of old. So we have to do that in creative ways, especially to reach the MSU students and our younger community. So that’s kind of the way we look at it. How can we incorporate something funny into a more serious issue. At the end of the day we’re trying to help people.

Q: Is there any social media ELPD is still trying to expand its presence on?

Our Youtube is more of our new social media platform we’re using. Obviously Facebook we’ve had for a while. In January we revamped our Facebook, we made a Twitter, we made an Instagram and we made a Youtube. Twitter and Facebook are doing great, Instagram is doing fine — it’s just pictures, so it’s not as interactive. But our Youtube is where you’ll see the most growth from us. We’ve done vlogs, we’re on our fifth one which is kind of like a ride along with our K-9 unit. And that’s kind of unique, for a police department to be out there and doing vlog style videos. 

Q: Any thoughts for trying live streams?

We’ve done a few Facebook Lives. Our goal with Facebook Live is to reach out to community members. So what they’ve been mostly is just trying to get people engaged on Facebook. So we did a tour of our police car live, we did a tour of a police officer’s duty belt live, and we’ll do Facebook Live at community events. 

Down the road, I imagine if we ever had — and hopefully we don't — some kind of major incident, we’d be able to reach out to that same Facebook Live audience and let people know what the safety threat is or what roads are closed, or if there’s a shelter in place we can go live and explain exactly what’s going on even before the media gets to the scene.

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