Santa Clarita Valley Law Enforcement, Firefighters Look To Expand Social Media
Gwendolyn Sims heard the ambulance’s siren as it raced by her Stevenson Ranch home several times last October, while her children started to fall asleep.
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By the third time, with the emergency vehicle’s wail now accompanied by a helicopter, she became concerned.
The 45-year-old mother of two handles marketing for a wellness company from her home office, and blogs about autism on her site, gweneverforever.com.
She’d been using Twitter for a couple of years, as @SCVbuckeye, mostly engaging in a political back-and-forth about the recent presidential election.
And now wanted to see if Twitter could help.
Social media and the community
She tweeted out a picture of the ambulance and the message: “Anyone know what's up in SR? Hemingway being blocked by #Sheriff helicopter hovering.”
“The next thing I knew, (Deputy Josh Dubin) was outside my house in a Sheriff’s Department truck,” she said with a laugh. “He called me out by my Twitter handle, and he told me it was being shot for a movie.”
Dubin, who’s been a frequent community voice for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station on social media such as Twitter and Facebook @JDLASD and @SCVSheriff, happened to be in the area on a patrol paid for by the production company.
“Ever since then, I’ve been trying to help him get more followers, and I’m trying to get Santa Clarita more active on Twitter,” Sims said.
The interaction has made her watch Twitter closer, and increased her interaction with the department, she said.
“The Sheriff’s Department gets involved in anything that goes on, and I think (Twitter) is a really good source of information and a really good device for the Sheriff’s Department,” she added. “And I think it makes them more a part of our community and less just a source of, ‘Oh, they’re there to punish us and give us tickets.”
For 34-year-old Newhall resident Brian Herbert, who’s frequently on Twitter as @KE6ZGP, it’s not just a way to keep up, it can be a way to help deputies and fire personnel who are handling emergencies.
Fires and earthquakes
Herbert has listened to scanners since age 6, and he appreciates not only the networking aspect of it, but also the speed for which information is being put out there.
“Even two years ago, you had to struggle to get information (in an emergency),” Herbert said. “If you turned on the radio or the TV, you had to wait an hour to get the info on a brush fire or an earthquake.
“Now with the Sheriff’s Station or Facebook, you have the Sheriff’s Department and (Press Information Officers) and you have people like Josh Dubin getting on there with Facebook or Twitter and there’s no waiting,” he said.
While the information is coming faster, you also have to be careful about where it’s coming from said Tony Akins, Los Angeles County Fire Department communications specialist, who tweets as @LACoFDpio, along with several others in the department’s downtown communications office.
“Certainly, we’re going to increase our presence in social media,” Akins said.
“We’re going to work toward figuring out how it can best fit into the collage of tools to contact the public and both offer the public to access to us,” he said, describing it as one more tool in the toolbox.
But it’s still fairly nascent, and as a result, he issued a caution.
“Crowd-sourcing of information has some usefulness, the problem is who is sourcing that information," Akins said. What may in fact be a relatively minor event, may seem catastrophic to the untrained eye. It may be routine to the world of emergency services.”
It makes the trustworthiness of sources, as well as the need to put out a unified message, vital in emergency situations, he said, adding that about “80 percent” of the department’s Twitter followers tend to be members of the media.
Crime prevention and enforcement
The Sheriff’s Department has been interacting with social media for several years, said Sgt. Chris Meadows, who supervises the sheriff’s Electronic Communications Unit in Monterey Park.
The unit, which began in earnest last September, follows and interacts online on a 24-hour-a-day basis, which has led to operations such as No Laughing Matter, which was a successful interagency raid on illegal nitrous-oxide sales.
“We found that these parties were being advertised (on Facebook and Twitter),” Meadows said. ‘We didn’t realize the impact that it had on crime that was associated with activity after the parties. It was one of the things we’ve focused on. We’ve definitely had an impact on it. I think NOS use is down, and the availability has been restricted so much.”
Meadows said the graffiti unit he worked in before joining the EComm Unit made extensive use of the Internet in the fight against crime, taking advantage of the social aspect of graffiti -- the fact that people who do it often want the credit and share pictures of their crime.
“My unit ended up doing several hundred technology warrants every year on the internet,” he said, adding that now he has five law enforcement technician, which are civilian staff, who assist in the 24-seven effort online.
“We actually call them social-media dispatchers,” Meadows said. “It’s kind of one of those new coined terms. It’s similar to person who takes 911 calls, it’s just a different genre.”
However, certain interactions are still best performed the old-fashioned way, by picking up and dialing, he said.
“We don’t want them to think that we’re monitoring things so vigorously that you can report crimes this way,” he said.
“Dropping a dime” on somebody online may not be a good idea, especially when there’s no anonymity, he said.
“We still ask that they call 911 or report it to their local sheriff’s station,” Meadows said.
For those interested in following local crime reports as part of the Santa Clarita Valley's Crime Prevention Unit, check out our summary of the Sheriff's Station's weekly Nixle reports for how to sign up.
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