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Local police leaning more on social media to help do their work

Officer Andrew Jurewich showed the Facebook page used by Norwood police. He maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts and Web pages for the department.
Officer Andrew Jurewich showed the Facebook page used by Norwood police. He maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts and Web pages for the department. Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe/2012 file

Area police departments are making friends and capturing criminals through social media, in keeping with a nationwide trend that shows police increasingly relying on Facebook and Twitter to help solve cases and build community support.

“You like us, you really like us!” declared a post on the Facebook page of the Norwood Police Department, which has built a strong following, getting more than 31,000 page views a week.

Sharon police got on the Facebook bandwagon last month, and the few police departments that do not yet have a Facebook page like Duxbury’s soon will have.

“It’s pretty obvious it’s the way a lot of the younger generation communicates today,’’ Duxbury Police Chief Matthew M. Clancy said.


Clancy said his department’s Facebook page has been designed, but policies on its use are being finalized and personnel are being put in place to monitor it.

“That’s our main concern,’’ he said. “If there is an inappropriate wall post, we have to act on that rather quickly.’’

Many police departments prohibit page viewers from leaving online messages for all to see that are violent, obscene, or appear to be personal attacks, and they will remove messages deemed out of bounds. The Massachusetts State Police Facebook page also lets people know they may become witnesses subject to subpoena, depending on the information they leave.

Clancy said local officials had been initially reluctant to embrace social media, but have since been swayed. He said Twitter proved to be a fantastic tool for the town’s emergency management officials during winter storms. Even when phone landlines are down, he said, people somehow manage to keep their smartphones charged and can be reached through Twitter and Facebook.

A September survey of 500 law enforcement agencies in 48 states found that 95.9 percent of them were using social media, with Facebook being the most popular platform, with 92.1 percent using it, said Nancy Kolb, senior program manager at the Center for Social Media at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, based in Alexandria, Va.


Slightly more than 80 percent reported that social media helped solve crimes in their jurisdiction, and 73.1 percent said use of social media improved police-community relations.

Of those not currently using social media, 57.1 percent of police agencies said they were considering its adoption.

The survey results also indicated there are still concerns associated with social media. Some of the top concerns mentioned included criminal use of social media, resource commitment, hacking or security issues, civil liability, and privacy.

Massachusetts State Police currently have the most Twitter followers of any state law enforcement organization, with more than 72,000 followers @MassStatePolice , according to a directory maintained by the chiefs of police group.

All law enforcement agencies should be making use of social media, said Trooper Dustin G. Fitch (@DustinGFitch), social media specialist for the State Police since May.

He said they help police to connect with people, and posts may be used to let people know the work that police do and may alert the public to traffic restrictions or accidents.

Fitch said use of social media can also help catch suspects. Social media played a role recently in the capture of an erratic motorcyclist who was frightening drivers and taunting police on area highways, Fitch said.

After a blurb was posted with a photo of a similar motorcycle, an identification was made within six hours and the driver was in custody within 24 hours, Fitch said.


Police still work with traditional media, but find social media to be more direct, immediate, and interactive, he said. The tone of social media is more conversational and understandable than traditional police logs or bulletins, which he said adds to its appeal.

In addition to more serious matters, such as missing children or wanted suspects, some police Facebook pages include lighter postings, such as Norwood’s “Way Back Wednesday,” which features photos and remembrances from decades ago, or accounts of incidents with a funny slant to them.

Recently Norwood police shared a story of how they caught up with someone who took an Ironman collectible statuette from a store. “When Ironman is stolen, Norwood and Walpole police join forces to avenge theft,” read the beginning of the posting. “There is a stark contrast between good and evil. Feel free to MARVEL at this example.”

The account then mentioned that the suspect had fled in a red Pontiac, adding: “Note to criminals: Red is not the best choice for a getaway car.”

In response to that post, 170 people clicked “like,” 15 people shared it, and more than 20 commented.

“LOL. I love the creative writing,” wrote one respondent, using the lingo meaning that he or she “laughed out loud.”

The person behind many of Norwood police’s nostalgic and humorous postings is Lieutenant Brian P. Murphy, a 35-year veteran of the force, whose father was a police chief in town.


“It’s fun and we get great support out of it,” he said.

While official police press releases have to be more in the spirit of Jack Webb’s Sergeant Joe Friday (“Just the facts”), writing on Facebook is a little more like imitating comedian Buddy Hackett, Murphy said.

“People don’t want to be bored while they trudge through something,” he said.

One of his most popular posts, which had some 70,000 hits, told about a driver who was caught driving more than 100 miles an hour on Route 1 — “about a buck,” the driver told the police officer who pulled him over — while videotaping the speedometer so he could later show potential buyers how fast the car could go.

But while people may be drawn to the page to see old photos or read funny accounts of incidents, said Murphy, they may also see a photo of a suspect police are looking for and call in a tip, or feel more inclined to support police in their requests to Town Meeting for new cruisers.

“It’s fun to put something on there and see how it takes off,” he said.

Jean Lang can be reached at jeanmcmillan-lang@gmail.com.