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Chapel Hill Police take to social media to keep you informed


With technology constantly changing, police work has evolved to meet new expectations, whether it’s a citizen filming an interaction or controversy surrounding body cameras. For the Chapel Hill Police Department, however, social media is proving to be a tool to bridge the divide between authorities and Chapel Hill residents. 

Ran Northam, community safety communications specialist for the Town of Chapel Hill, said a lot of his job involves social media, and it’s a promising new technique for police work.

“I wouldn't say that social media use is new, but we’ve seen different iterations and different people leading the charge of it,” Northam said. “We’ve definitely tried to have a strong presence on social media to get the word out about different safety measures."

From alcohol enforcement teams to police on MLK watching for speeding cars, CHPD uses Twitter and other social media accounts to announce events, plans or ongoing issues like car accidents.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said there is an increased interest nationwide in how police interact with their communities, and social media is a vital part of that outreach. He sees many possibilities for preventative strategies, especially in announcements of when and where police could be watching for speeding vehicles. 

While it isn’t necessarily a direct relationship, Blue said he has noticed a decrease in speeding after the department announced such a move.

Northam emphasized it’s not a black and white issue because even if there’s a decrease in written speeding tickets, it could be due to weather, traffic or other influences. However, he said if announcing an event on Twitter leads to more careful driving, then they’ve done their job to keep people safe.

"I think we try to never say, for any instance, we wrote fewer tickets, so therefore it worked," he said. "But we do look at how many people engaged with us, how many people shared."

UNC Police also use social media, and UNC Media Relations Manager Randy Young said it’s an important tool to publicize safety-related information, as well as opportunities.

He added that not only do campus police post their own information on social media, but they can retweet or share posts by CHPD in an attempt to enhance safety and engagement throughout the Town. Young said campus police also use social media to amplify Alert Carolina messages, which is part of UNC’s safety communication procedures.

Social media is a growing tool for policing, according to a 2016 study by the Urban Institute. The study found that 91 percent of agencies nationwide use social media to keep the public updated about concerns, like when Chapel Hill Police tweeted on Feb. 2 about a reported gas leak on Estes Drive.

Community outreach and public engagement are also important uses of social media, while in-service training was a less common use, with only 6 percent of agencies reporting its use.

Chapel Hill Police are currently working on implementing a new social media tool: Nextdoor. Northam described it as a "neighborhood-centric" tool to share concerns or issues within a smaller group of neighbors. Northam said Chapel Hill Police can post to every Chapel Hill resident signed up for the service but can’t see the public message board.

Whether it’s to update the public or connect with neighbors, Chapel Hill Police has plans to continue to expand its social media presence.


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