Columbia Police Department Increases Online Presence

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department is now using social media as a primary means of getting out information.

Police Chief Ken Burton implemented the use of Twitter and Facebook, modeling the CPD's program after his former department's in Arlington, Texas.

"It's kind of one of those things where you either get on the train or you get run over by it," Burton said. "If social media is how people are communicating, we want to communicate with them in that manner."

Sergeant Joe Bernhard and Public information Officer Latisha Stroer write daily tweets and Facebook posts ranging from safety tips to accident and traffic information to disturbances in the area.

"We want to interact more with the citizens that we serve," Bernhard said. "We also will use social media for crime alerts in the area. It's a powerful tool to spread information."

With social media running day and night, one of the obstacles Bernhard's team faces is a lack of manpower.

"The challenge is our unit is not a 24/7 operation," Bernhard said. "We work Monday through Friday from eight to five. We only have two full time employees who work with the social media. So there is not much presence after hours."

Less than a month ago, the department hired a part-time employee to ride along with officers and tweet information throughout the day.

"The tweet-along idea was something I took directly from the Arlington department," Burton said. "It gives the public an idea of what an officer in the field does on a day-to-day basis. "

MU student Shannon Curry rides with an officer for a four-hour shift, during which she tweets out updates of calls the department receives with the hashtag #tweetalong.

"It's definitely a positive thing for the department and the community," Curry said. "Residents can know what is going on in their community without physically being there."

The Columbia Police Department hopes to hire more employees and further increase their presence on social media. The department activated it's Twitter account (@ColumbiaPD) in January and has sent out 538 tweets as of September 1. Its Facebook page, which features posts about arrests and other promotional events, has more than 1,800 "likes".