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For Grand Forks, East Grand Forks police, social media use vital for public engagement

“All of this boils down to engagement,” said Lt. Andrew Stein of the Grand Forks Police Department.

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A Grand Forks Police Department squad car, pictured at an incident in April 2021. Grand Forks Herald photo.
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GRAND FORKS – The positive effects of social media on police work vastly outweigh the negatives, Lt. Andrew Stein of the Grand Forks Police Department and Chief of Police Michael Hedlund of the East Grand Forks Police Department say.

As law enforcement agencies across the nation adapt to and take advantage of social media, city police in Greater Grand Forks say it helps local police efforts, and especially in informing the community of the goings-on of the local departments.

“All of this boils down to engagement,” said Stein. “Social media is our agency’s direct conduit to the community to get our message out.”

A 2019 paper on social media, published on the website of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, noted “social media provides a potentially valuable means of assisting law enforcement agencies in meeting community outreach, problem-solving, investigative, and crime prevention objectives. In addition, social media can be used to enhance communication, collaboration, and information exchange; streamline processes; and foster productivity.”

A report last month by Omaha, Nebraska, television station WOWT showed that in Bellevue, Nebraska, a police department community relations coordinator spends half of his hours each week on social media.

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In Greater Grand Forks, both agencies are active on social media, especially on Facebook. The East Grand Forks Police Department posted 11 times between Sept. 1 and Sept. 20, while the Grand Forks department posted 19 times.

On the Grand Forks department’s Facebook page, many posts were simple outreach efforts — for example, inviting the public to attend a “Tip-a-Cop” event, recognizing the department’s women officers on National Police Women’s Day and noting the Global Friends Coalition’s annual community picnic. It also included “weekly wanted” updates and an “attempt to identify” certain “individuals of interest.”

The GFPD also uses social media for tip lines.

“It makes it easy for our officers to keep the public informed regarding traffic, crime, and the positive acts officers perform within the community,” Stein said.

East Grand Forks residents can communicate with the EGFPD through Facebook Messenger. This has been a generally positive update, especially for those who feel more comfortable on social media than they would on a phone call, Hedlund said.

A variety of messages come in through Messenger, from suspected drug houses to traffic violations. Though some tips lack validity, Hedlund said the EGFPD has received genuine leads through Messenger.

A negative effect of this, though, is when people report incidents online that need immediate attention. Hedlund stressed the importance of calling during those situations, especially since the East Grand Forks Police Department’s Facebook Messenger is not monitored 24/7.

Stein said the Grand Forks Police Department must be diligent when sharing information with the public through social media, ensuring all open records laws are followed. However, public expectations sometimes outstretch reality, as the department sometimes releases only essential information during active investigations.

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“There are times when the community wants information quickly but due to an active investigation and, not wanting to jeopardize that, we have to hold off on the release of that information,” said Stein.

Social media’s integration into police work can be beneficial for residents. During emergency situations, police are now able to use social media to issue warnings and direct residents away from the affected area. Police can then give prompt notice when such situations are resolved. The GFPD also puts out notices on traffic-related information, such as road closures and accidents.

In East Grand Forks, police also use social media to inform residents about upcoming events, and to publicize positive acts in the community. Hedlund said social media posts help residents relate to the officers.

“If we help develop positive relationships between our officers and the public then those people, if they do have a problem, hopefully they’re going to be more likely to call us and trust us, if they’ve had a positive interaction with an officer,” Hedlund said.

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