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Social Media: A Tool Not Used by Local Police

Updated: Monday, July 21 2014, 11:15 PM CDT
ILLINOIS -- The power of social media. With one keystroke and one click, thousands can see your message. But for police in central Illinois, it's a tool that's rarely, if ever, used.

The Macon County sheriff's office has no social media presence.

"Where do I think we have missed out a little bit?" Macon County Sheriff, Tom Schneider, asked. "We were making a big push to get information out about scams going on."

Schneider says his office plans on adding social media within the next two months. A big reason for the delay was simply not understanding how it could work. For example, filtering out comments or other information.

"We could start a Facebook page today," Schneider  said. "We could then learn as we go. No. It has been long enough now, where if I am going to put something out there, it's going to be a quality product."

For those who do have a social media presence, like Sangamon and Menard County Crimestoppers, they are not using it to show their crime of the week. Instead, their posts are about their trivia night fundraisers and that's it.

"I think there is sometimes a fear if you get involved in social media that there is some way to track you," Matt Goulet, Crimestoppers coordinator said.

But other agencies, like the Champaign County Sheriff, don't share that opinion, posting a recent picture of a wanted criminal. The Effingham County sheriff's office posted about scams and FOID card rules.

On the other hand, the bulk of what's on the Sangamon County Sheriff's Facebook page are pictures of deputies with the Sheriff.

Sheriff Neil Willamson admits they are not utilizing social media to its potential, adding they have one person who is in charge of the site, but it's a very small responsibility. But they don't plan doing anything more with the site.

The Springfield Police Department doesn't even have a fan page. It's a friend page, and it's maxed out on friends. The Illinois State Police has a twitter page, with just 17 followers and 3 tweets sent in 2010.

"I am surprised,"Ann Strahle, a communications professor at UIS said. "I am surprised it's not more prevalent."

Strahle says law enforcement is missing opportunities to get information to people, interact with neighborhoods, and fight crime. That's because social media can reach so many. She adds agencies do have to be careful.

"In many ways, you can completely damage a person's reputation," Strahle said.

Her advice for police here? Check out agencies that are using social media well, and follow in their footsteps.

It was just in the past two weeks that the Illinois State Police District 18 based out of Litchfield, started utilizing a twitter account to send out information.Social Media: A Tool Not Used by Local Police


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