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The LeRoy Police Department is just one of the many businesses and organizations that are testing out the social media waters recently. Facebook has now become an instrumental tool in every facet of life and for the LeRoy P.D., the site has drastically improved the way it serves the community.
Officer Jason Williamson led the charge for a new LeRoy Police Department website, and the idea of a Facebook page sparked in his mind.
“I was looking for ways to connect with the public. The website had become outdated, and I saw the potential power of Facebook being able to immediately reach a number of people in a short amount of time,” said Williamson, who got the idea from a continuing education course he was enrolled in. The instructor was a suburban police chief whose department had a Facebook page of their own.
Williamson began his law enforcement career 16 years ago, starting out with the Farmer City Police Department. He moved to the LeRoy Police Department eight years ago. In those 16 years, technology has changed its role in society. When he first became a police officer, Williamson didn’t even have internet access. While he was enrolled in Parkland College in the early 1990s, he took a course in police-community relations.
“Ideas on how to reach the public at that time included walking the neighborhoods for knock and talks with residents and hosting meet and greet meetings,” said Williamson. “I used these techniques during my term as Police Sergeant in Farmer City. They were good ideas at the time but were very time consuming and limited the number of people you can effectively reach.”
Now, most people would worry if an officer came knocking at their front door. New methods of communication had to be developed and have allowed for much more efficient ways to reach people.
“With Facebook and the website, I can explain all the details of an issue, reach hundreds of people, answer questions and receive feedback in less than an hour,” said Williamson.
That sounds like a great concept, but not everyone can get that kind of following to get accurate information from a large group. Williamson and the LPD aren't one of those.
“The feedback from the public has been overwhelmingly positive,” added Williamson about the new Facebook page. “They are grateful for the ability to share thoughts and ideas on the page and to easily obtain accurate information on the website.”
During an August City Council meeting, LeRoy Police Chief Gordon Beck explained the Department's reasoning for the new page.
“We always try to think of it in terms of including more discussion for the community on issues,” said Beck. “We just saw (the Facebook page) as a better avenue to get to the citizens. We can gather statistics with this as well.”
The Department was able to use their Facebook page to create a buzz in the community in a recent post. As the City Council looked to pass an ordinance to allow the use of golf carts in town, Williamson turned to Facebook for some input.
“No one on the police department or with the City knew how many people actually had an opinion one way or the other on the matter. Everyone was shocked at the level of discussion on the Facebook page,” said Williamson.
The golf cart poll on Facebook got a large part of the community involved as it received 27 “likes” and a total of 58 comments. The Department was able to collect these results with little effort and report them to the City Council before the final decision was made regarding the golf carts.
Even posts celebrating the Department and community members get a lot of response, including the recent posting about the one year anniversary of the Facebook page. That post alone received over 100 “likes” and thousands of views from the community.
But Williamson sees a trend in what the community really likes to hear about.
“The most popular posts are always of our new police dog, Pete,” added Williamson.
In a fast-paced world where Facebook gets more daily hits than news-gazette.com, people are looking for more outlets to get the most accurate news. The LeRoy Police Department's Facebook page allows them to update the local community easily and quickly, especially about threats, road closures and other pertinent community matters.
But the City of LeRoy and its citizens aren't the only ones who benefit from the LPD page.
“The Facebook page gives the public a chance to express gratitude toward our officers, which helps keep up our morale,” said Williamson. “In the past, the only people we would hear from were those who were unhappy.”
The community often lets their local officers know about their appreciation, and with Facebook they can do it even easier.
“We have seen several cases this past year where a resolution was announced and victims and other members of the public have congratulated specific officers who worked hard on the case,” added Williamson, who used the recent “hit and run” incident with the building wall as an example. “Police officers are people, too. Positive feedback keeps officers wanting to do a great job on each and every case.”
The members of LeRoy's City Council are recognizing the success of the Facebook page as well. Councilman Monti Albert congratulated the Department on the page in an August City Council meeting.
“I get notifications on my Facebook. I got the one on the golf cart and a couple others, so I got on there and looked,” said Albert during the meeting. “I was impressed with not only the amount of people who like the page, but the amount of people who responded to the golf cart thing. It's great to see that there's involvement.”
The LeRoy Police Department Facebook page has created quite the following over the past year. It now boasts 568 people that “like” that page and get weekly updates about news, crimes and community happenings.
“I find that number incredible for a community of 3,600 people,” said Williamson. “Each time a post is made, the number grows. It has exceeded my expectations, and I don't know where the ceiling will be.”
Through the Facebook page and the new, re-designed LeRoy Police Department website, the officers with LPD and the community continue to communicate with one another and make sure LeRoy stays safe and protected. Williamson's project started one year ago with an idea and has turned into a complete success for the whole community of LeRoy.
LeRoy Police go digital
• The LeRoy Police Department Facebook page can be accessed by typing “LeRoy IL Police” into your search when logged into Facebook. “Like” the page to subscribe to posts by LeRoy PD and receive them in your news feed.
• To access the LeRoy Police Department's official website, go to www.leroyilpolice.org to check for news, updates and other information.