To serve, protect and tweet: Cops lighten up online

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 7:00pm

 It seemed like the ultimate "bait car" trick: Seattle police officers offering free bags of Doritos to folks attending the city's Hempfest, an event advocating cannabis law reform, last weekend.

Surely, the cops were just luring stoners with chips, ready to pounce and cuff festival goers as soon as they stumbled by, sufficiently harshing their mellow.

Except it wasn't a trick. The officers were simply and legitimately offering up some anti-munchies goodwill. Surprising on the surface, but for a police department that runs an unexpectedly playful Twitter account complete with tweets about centaurs and zucchini baseball among many other things it kind of seems to fit the profile.

An anonymous officer even participated in a recent "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit, under the username 'GoHawks206'.

However, the department has found itself under far more serious scrutiny recently, including a 2011 Justice Department investigation that found widespread use of excessive force among its officers. The Twitter-promoted Doritos giveaway and full-on social media campaign then may be the actions of a department seeking to reshape its image online not unlike many other brands, organizations or people like that perennially scowling co-worker who nonetheless comments on every Facebook post with "LOL! :)"

In fact, Seattle's police department is far from the only one using social media to put a more human face on a rigid profession sometimes regarded with fear or skepticism.

One state over, Oregon's Hillsboro Police Department rolled out a YouTube video described by as "part 'Law & Order,' part 'Parks and Recreation'" to recruit new officers. The $9,200 of public money spent on the video seems to have been a solid investment, according to a department official. "That attention and free publicity only helps us to attract the best candidates in our nationwide search," Public Affairs Manager Patrick Preston told The Oregonian.

A Minneapolis police department went the self-deprecating route last week on Facebook, sharing a photo of a menu board from inside a donut shop with the caption, "Most stereotypes are hurtful, some are delicious."

The same Lino Lakes P.D. account also pulled-off a complete Reverse Seattle and posted a picture a jerry-rigged stoner trap, featuring Funyons and a copy of "Dark Side of the Moon" beneath a large, propped-up box with a nearby cop ready to pounce. "Thank you to our dedicated Trail Watch volunteers for keeping marijuana use out of our parks," read a note alongside the photo. "Without you, we may have to resort to this."

One of the most prolific contributors to this whole "Buddy Cop" trend is Brimfield, Ohio, Police Chief David Oliver, whose posts have earned his department's Facebook page more than 82,000 Likes. The town has a population of just under 3,400.

"Dear Drunken Driver," begins one of the chief's recent posts. "We all are lucky you did not kill an innocent or yourself. Since this was your fourth offense in six years, I thought perhaps some advice would help." In a lengthy note which follows, Chief Oliver offers several tips for the unnamed offender:

-- "Telling the officer you 'can't be arrested' because you were 'on private property' does not work... does it? Drunken driving is not a game related to 'Freeze Tag' we all played as a kid. There are not safe bases set up along the roadway of life for you."

-- "Crying does not work on us. We have children."

-- "We are not ruining your life. You seem to be doing fine on your own. We are walking behind you, trying to prevent a disaster."

Oliver also frequently uses the page to promote town safety events and fundraisers and give some behind-the-scenes updates from the precinct. "Captain 'Goose' Adkins is fitting into his role as 'second-in command' very nicely," he wrote last week. "I am not an easy guy to hear yapping all day. I am demanding to work for. So far I see no signs of him wanting to assassinate me."

Which is nice.

Though, clearly, his most important post to the small-town police department's 80,000-plus law enforcement fans was this one: "Happy Birthday to Donny Most. He was Ralph Malph on the show 'Happy Days.' Ralph Malph is 60 years old today."


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