GVPD use social media to stop crime

GVL / Luke Holmes - A student scrolls through the GVPD twitter page.

GVL / Luke Holmes – A student scrolls through the GVPD twitter page.

Hannah Lentz

Tweets, hashtags, retweets and direct messages aren’t something often associated with police departments. However, if the Grand Valley State University Police Department has their way, Twitter can be used as a key platform when attempting to reach students about campus safety issues.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, of the 947 million current Twitter users, 63 percent said that Twitter serves as a main source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family. This idea of instant and widespread communication is taken to heart when Sgt. Jeff Stoll of GVPD utilizes the department’s Twitter account.

Currently, the GVPD Twitter has more than 1,700 followers.

“Police using Twitter is becoming more and more prevalent,” Stoll said. “It’s a way to reach your audience through an outlet that doesn’t cost anything and engage the community.”

One method that has seen great success, especially with catching retail theft in the Laker Marketplace, is tweeting pictures of suspects. Since January, 11 cases of retail fraud on campus have been reported to GVPD. Since then, nine of these cases have been closed, many of them attributed to information gained from widespread Twitter posts. Sometimes, those pictured will even contact GVPD to admit in order to have their picture taken down, Stoll said.

“When people see these tweets and send us leads, it helps to provide a secure environment and hold those responsible accountable,” said Capt. Brandon DeHaan. “I think the community has done a great job at this.”

Often, these tweets made by GVPD will reach audiences larger than the surrounding community.

“Not only do tweets from out account reach our student followers, but often, tweets are picked up by other outlets,” Stoll said. “We only have 18 people here looking at the pictures we collect, when we put them on social media, we have thousands of people looking at them.”

The visual aid that Twitter allows for provides an engaging platform for GVPD and surrounding departments, Stoll said.

“Grand Rapids police have a similar approach to Twitter,” Stoll said. “We originally got the idea from Michigan State University police, and we’ve been able to work and learn together on how to use Twitter in the best way.”

Another benefit of GVPD’s Twitter is the useful information it makes available to students, Stoll said.

“It’s important that people see us as a helpful resource instead of always as a negative consequence,” Stoll said. “We are here as a service and to ensure that campus stays safe.”

GVPD also uses social media to post alerts about school closings, relevant tips, pictures of community involvement, interaction with students, parking changes and updates, football game regulations and other emergency information.

“Not all of our tweets revolve around theft in the bookstore,” DeHaan said. “We use our social media outlets to update surrounding residents and to work together to hold those who create an unsafe environment responsible for their actions.”