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South Dakota Law Enforcement Agencies Embrace Social Media

Amy Varland

Some South Dakota law enforcement agencies are using social media to reach out to the public, and they say it’s working.  Officials say Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are some of the latest tools police are using to engage communities and fight crime.

Social media is not just for fun – law enforcement officials in South Dakota say they are using social media for official business.

Community Relation Specialist for the Rapid City Police Department Tarah Heupel says it’s proving to be a valuable tool.

“We use social media for a couple big things – education, crime-prevention, helping out with investigations, promoting events that we’re holding. We use it to alert the public about traffic things, weather alerts, we use it for recruitment, and probably most importantly we use it to build relationships with the public – that’s probably our main goal. It’s a good way for us to interact with the public, let people voice their concerns, and then for us to be able to respond to those things and remind people that we’re human,” says Heupel.

Heupel says the RCPD Facebook page has more than fifteen-thousand likes and they have more than three-thousand followers on Twitter.

She says many people also watch the videos the RCPD posts on YouTube and interacting with the public is helping police solve crimes.

“We often post surveillance photos or videos of crimes where we need some help trying to identify the people involved. The people, especially on our Facebook page, are very involved and want to help us and they’ll share those things, and it’s happened on more than one occasion where we’ve been able to find the suspects and make an arrest based on tips coming in from social media,” says Heupel.

She says the public comments on Facebook regularly, and although most are positive, there are a handful of negative comments.

“We just kind of try to monitor for things that are inappropriate as far as prejudiced, or inappropriate language, some of those kind of things, but for the most part we get people who are pretty positive and supportive of the police department,” says Heupel.

The Rapid City Police Department is not the only law enforcement agency in South Dakota that is embracing social media. The Sioux Falls Police Department reports thirty-eight hundred Facebook likes and fifteen-hundred Twitter followers.

Major Rick Miller with the South Dakota Highway Patrol says they use social media too. He says they have nearly twelve-thousand likes on their Facebook page, more than three-thousand Twitter followers, and forty-three YouTube subscribers.

“The internet traffic to the website was diminishing but our following on Facebook and Twitter were increasing, so we thought well this is a great way to reach the public – to get the message out there, because one of the big messages we have is highway safety and keeping the roads safe,” says Miller.

Major Miller says interactive social media sites help the public help law enforcement – like when residents report severe weather or impassable roads.

He says whenever the Highway Patrol posts anything out of the ordinary they typically see an increase in online activity.

“You can’t just post something today and think you’re good for a week or two weeks or even the day. I mean you constantly have to be posting fresh content because your followers want to see that and so that’s important to us because people want to hear what we’re doing, people want to be engaged with us and we appreciate that and therefore we’re going to be engaged with them,” says Miller.

Miller says the comments on the Highway Patrol’s Facebook page are also mostly positive.

South Dakota law enforcement officials say social media is proving to be useful in interacting with the public but say there is a downside to social media too - once you put something out there it’s out there and you can’t take it back one-hundred-percent.

Following are links to some popular SDHP Facebook posts:

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