2017-04-17 / Front Page

Getting the word out

A new sort of police social media post rockets readership
Senior Staff Writer

SANFORD — When followers of the Sanford Maine Police Department’s Facebook page began reading about someone wanted on warrants Thursday afternoon, they read it in a whole new way.

It was playful. It made some people laugh — and just as there are varying opinions on pretty much everything, it made others unhappy.

 It got people’s attention because of exactly how it was presented, proponents say.

Sanford Police, like many others, regularly post news releases when they’re looking for someone wanted for a crime, to announce an especially significant arrest, or if there’s a snow parking ban. 

The news releases have tended to be strictly formal — police were dispatched to such-and-such a location. They found x and arrested y. It was a “just the facts, ma’am” way of doing things that many departments adhere to.

But on Thursday, Detective Sgt. Matthew Jones and detectives Eric Small and Chad Allen decided to change things up a bit in their quest to locate Bryan Farr-Luciano, 21, who is wanted on several warrants — for unpaid fines on an unlawful possession of scheduled drugs, possession and distribution of dangerous knives, violating conditions of release on a motor vehicle charge, and a probation violation from New Hampshire for possession of heroin, Jones said.

Here is what the post said:

“It turns out Bryan owes the court some money and has not made good on his debts. Now he has a couple of arrest warrants. We have it from a good source that he is bragging about his abilities to hide from the police. He claims to be above average at hide-and-seek, mastering the skill as a child. If you can help us find him and bring him to justice, we will gladly reward you with an all-expense paid lunch at a local restaurant not to exceed $20. If your tip leads to his arrest and capture, we will contact you. Please contact us on our tip line 324-9170 ex170. 1, 2, skip-a-few… 99, 100. Ready or not, here we come!”

As of early this morning,  he remained in the wind, but the tip line has yielded calls, and police are following up.

To say the post is popular would be an understatement. It has been shared close to 1,100 times. It had 352 likes, 279 smiles,16 loves, six gasps, two sad faces and just two dislikes. By the weekend, there were 822 comments and the post had been seen by 91,911 people, according to Cpl. Matt Gagne, who has monitored the department’s Facebook page for the past five years.

Gagne said a Police Department post on Jan. 30 regarding the largest heroin bust in the state’s history reached 37,346 people and was shared 260 times — far fewer than Thursday’s post for the man wanted on the warrants.

What that told Gagne, he said, is that humor is effective — and it reinforced what police departments across  the country already know — social media works.

“The citizens are the stakeholders of the community; it's their community, “said Gagne. "Communication through social media is really valuable. Everyone can see the comments, everyone can participate.”

“It reaches such an audience,” said Jones, the detective sergeant, who is among those who believe social media is a tool that police tend to underutilize.

“(This post) breaks records because of the humor, “ said Jones. “We realize if you make it funny, if you put some wit and humor into it, you garner more attention.”

The post was reminiscent of the postings of Sgt. Tim Cotton, the Facebook guru of  the Bangor Police Department's  page, which has 205,000 likes —  yes, really — and an international following. But Sanford Police say they's not trying to emulate their Bangor counterparts, they're just trying to lighten up the conversation and increase readership.

Department members will get together later this week and talk more about their social media presence and how they’ll proceed, Jones said.

As to the fellow they’re looking for, Jones said police had come close to apprehending Farr-Luciano before they made the post, and so figured a little more attention might lead them to him.

“Let's see if we can throw him some attention he probably won’t enjoy,” said Jones, describing how the trio arrived at the decision to make the post, described as “good-natured ribbing, and lunch.”

“It's not about the reward,” said Jones, referring to comments on the page by some who that said police were “cheap” because of the $20 offered. For someone who calls in a tip that leads to an arrest, “it's lets go to lunch and we’ll pat you on the back,” he said.

Jones said social media makes sense, particularly since the Police Department’s page has close to 10,000 followers.

Noting the likes, loves and smiles on the post, he said most of the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

Comments ranged from support to indignation and pronouncements that anyone who turned the wanted man in would be a snitch and a rat.

Jones isn’t bothered by that, and both he and Gagne pointed out that comments on any post that become a  crime — like a threat — would be pursued with charges.

“We don’t censor or remove people, but we do pursue charges if someone communicates a crime,” said Gagne.

Gagne pointed out that the Facebook page and its private messages aren’t monitored 24/7, and cautioned that if there is a crime in progress, folks should call 911.

Jones has a favorite comment: “The only people having a problem with the police posting this are the people on the same level as this loser. Police "do their jobs," but it is also our communities and we could offer help if we know anything. Everyone's always hating on cops, until something happens to you and they're the first ones you call,” one poster said. “Do they hold a grudge that you were being (expletive)  to them earlier in the day? No, they treat you like any other citizen and help you because that is them doing their job! I commend and appreciate every man/woman in blue for their service to everyone ... even the ones that don't deserve it.”

Jones said the statistics show people love social media. In general, folks want to be involved and they want to know what the department’s priorities are, he said.

“A lot of good people love helping the police. It makes them feel like they’re doing their civic duty,” he said. “And (social media) is a great platform to keep people informed.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com. 

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