Dover Police invite city residents to visit their Facebook page and Twitter account

Today it seems we're all using social media; everyone from the president of the United States down to your next door neighbor seems to have a Facebook page or Twitter account.

And now the Dover Police Department does, too.

The time had come for the capital city's police officers to connect via social media as a way of both staying in touch with the people they're sworn to protect and as a way of preventing and solving crimes, said Cpl. Mark Hoffman, a 10-year veteran of the force and self-described computer geek.

"I grew up in the Internet age," the 31-year-old Hoffman said. "I've seen how social media has grown and how it's become a great tool for law enforcement and for building a trustworthy relationship with the public."

The reality is that using social media, including Facebook and Twitter, has given police another means of gathering information they can use in fighting crime, Hoffman said.

At least 80 percent of people with Internet access use Facebook; an even greater number, 90 percent, have a Twitter account.

Those are figures a modern-day police department cannot ignore, Hoffman said.

"We will be able to give the public a behind-the-scenes look at the police department and it will allow us to put information about our major cases out there as another way of connecting with the public," he said.

The idea of merging Facebook and Twitter technologies with crime fighting is not confined to Dover. Many police departments throughout the country use them as valuable tools; in Delaware, the state police and Wilmington, Newark and even Harrington departments have active Facebook pages.

Several also have active Twitter accounts, and all use their connections to pass along information to the public.

Proving the idea is a two-way street, those departments' Facebook and Twitter sites also allow the public to tell police about problems within individual neighborhoods.

The same will apply for Dover residents, Hoffman said.

"By having that cooperation, people can call in tips and we'll respond," he said.

Dover's entry into the world of Facebook has garnered more than 3,100 "likes" since it went online on Oct. 7, and Hoffman is more than happy with those numbers.

"The more followers we have, the better it is," he said.

Hoffman brought the Dover PD into the Internet age after attending a three-day conference with the unlikely moniker of SMILE, or Social Media in Law Enforcement, held in Omaha, Neb.

More than 25 states and six countries were represented at the gathering, which taught the conferees the ins and outs of pairing social media and law enforcement.

Perhaps one of the most recent examples of this trend comes from Canada, with how Calgary, Alberta, police and residents used Twitter to keep each other informed during disastrous flooding in July. There was so much activity that Twitter mistakenly shut down the site, much to the outrage of both the police and city residents. The company apologized and quickly brought the site back up.

The sites also are important from a public relations point of view, Hoffman said.

"It will let us be our own voice," he said, adding the department thus will be able to set aside rumors with the facts.

People signing up for the department's Facebook page will be required to certify they understand the site's terms of service, which means no profanity and no unfounded attacks, Hoffman said. Anyone with a legitimate complaint will be allowed to post it without fear of censorship, he added.

Other uses for the social media sites, which soon also will include a blog, include event management, such as controlling traffic for large venues such as NASCAR races and Firefly, putting up surveillance photos of suspects, bolstering neighborhood watch efforts and even addressing cyber bullying, he said.

The rest of the Dover Police Department feels this new way of connecting to Dover residents will beneficial to both.

"We're all looking forward to this new addition to our police agency," said Operations Division Commander Capt. Tim Stump. "Mark has worked hard to put this together and make it happen. His excitement has been contagious.

"I am sure we'll be able to better reach the public we serve, once we get it all dialed in."