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RCPD’s new ally in fighting crime: Twitter

By Katherine Wartell

Following in the footsteps of police departments across the country, the Riley County Police Department is using social media, particularly Twitter, to reach out to the public, and officials say the results have been beneficial.

So far, Twitter has helped in the investigations of six cases.

The department’s Twitter account was first opened in 2009, but Matt Droge, the patrol officer who presently manages the account, said it was only used six times before it went stagnant.

But about seven months ago, Droge said, there was a push at the department to connect with the public using social media. That’s when Droge, who typically has the midnight patrol shift, took over the account.

When he began updating the page, the department, whose Twitter handle is @RileyCountyPD, had about 53 followers. Now the account has just over 2,500 followers.

To colleagues, Droge has become known as the Twitter Cop. Updating Twitter “is a major part of my day now,” he said.

Droge has help updating the account from other officers including Trevor Wilkey. They use Twitter to post photos of wanted suspects, give information on crimes, post safety tips and to respond to feedback from the public.

“It’s a direct link between the community and the police department,” Droge said.

The department’s increased exposure on Twitter and the feedback police have received from it has helped with six investigations, three of which were felony cases, Droge said. In each case, tips from Twitter either helped to name a suspect or even close the case.

In one case, Droge said, a person ended up pleading to three felonies, including theft and fraud, after someone identified a photo of the person the police posted on Twitter.

Police ask that anyone with a tip regarding a tweet to call in to the department’s main line at (785) 537-2112, instead of tweeting back.

But despite the serious nature of some tweets, Droge said he tries to keep the page entertaining in general.

“I don’t want the account to sound like a robot,” he said. “We have a voice. I want social media to reflect us.”

Droge and Wilkey will occasionally post “tweet-alongs,” where they update what they are doing continuously on a given night of patrol. One such tweet-along detailed their search for an intoxicated woman around Aggieville whose friends were concerned about her whereabouts.

But along with support for the page, detractors have also made themselves known on Twitter, including a parody page which uses the handle @RealRCPD. Its tagline reads, “Aiming to ruin the Kansas State college and Aggieville experience!” and Twitter users generally use the page to air their grievances about the department, though tweets from the actual department are often re-tweeted.

“People don’t always write nice things about us,” Droge said. “And that’s their right.” But, he said, responding through Twitter to people’s concerns has helped.

The department also has accounts at Pinterest, Facebook, Flickr and Youtube.

The latter two are simply used to host photos and videos, but Droge said the department is trying to find creative ways to use Pinterest and expand its Facebook page.

While many people equate Pinterest with crafts and do-it-yourself household projects, the department is using the page to list its most-wanted criminals, as well as information on police equipment, drugs, and the department and its employees.

Droge said the push for expanding the RCPD’s social media reach came after he visited the Kansas City Police Department along with Wilkey to discuss the topic.

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