As the calendar turns to December, the Peachtree City Police are making a push to complete a goal and they need your help. By the end of the year, they hope to reach 5,000 likes for their Facebook page. As of Tuesday, they were about 600 likes away.
For Peachtree City Public Information Officer Mark Brown, the Facebook experience has been a remarkable experience. His job is to get information out to the public, and traditionally that has come through local media outlets such as Fayette Newspapers. He’s found, though, that Facebook is an excellent way to engage the public and has built up a page that shows just how powerful a platform it can be.
“We really are looking forward to every opportunity to get more interest in Facebook because it’s so easy to share information,” Brown said.
Building a Facebook following has been an interesting and, at times, challenging experience according to Brown. He’s now operating as a sort of small media outlet, and has experienced the difficulties that can come with that.
A presumed suicide, which occurred in a local public park earlier this year, highlighted those challenges. Brown put out an alert on the Facebook page, as he does with other major breaking situations, to inform residents. The comments started rolling in on Facebook. The incident had occurred near a school and parents were understandably concerned.
The story was then picked up by another news outlet, and Brown found himself trying to stay ahead of the story as potentially misleading facts began to be reported.
Brown said it was a situation that spun a bit out of control, but also that served as a learning experience.
“It’s a risk for public entities to do it because you open up a forum for people to slam the government, slam us, or whatever. We let it go to a certain extent until it makes other people not want to read it, then we have to stop it,” Brown said of the comments on various posts
He has found, however, that sharing information on Facebook has been overwhelmingly positive. And the ability to reach people has amazed him.
In one incident, Brown shared a video taken by a Peachtree City officer who encountered a woman texting in her car.
“The officer had a body camera and was sitting behind a girl at a light,” Brown said. “The light goes through several cycles and she’s not moving. He walks up to her window and she’s texting. He has a body camera, recording all of this in broad daylight.”
The video ended up being humorous as the woman became indignant, denying that she was texting at all. The video from the officer’s body camera proved otherwise.
Brown said posts like that, which contain a little humor, tend to be shared a lot and provide a helpful platform for public education.
“She just went off. That was kind of funny and that got people interested,” Brown said. “It allowed us to explain texting while driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, or more. We also got the word out you can’t text at a red light. No one knew that.”
In fact, Brown said a local Fox 5 news anchor admitted in his report on the story, “I think I just learned something because I do that all the time.”
Another video showed Brown what it means for a story to go “viral” online. He posted a video of a woman caught on a police dash camera driving up onto a sidewalk to get around a school bus and make a turn. She had also passed the Peachtree City Police car before making the maneuver. She was promptly pulled over and found to be drunk, with a blood alcohol content of .19 at 2 p.m.
That post got over 300 ‘likes’ and 90 comments and ended up being reported in multiple news outlets. What was crucial to the story, Brown said, was that the incident occurred in a school zone near Booth Middle School. He shared the video in the hopes of emphasizing the importance of safe driving in school zones and to highlight the fact that Peachtree City has uniquely elongated school zones due to its similarly unique cart path system.
Based on the numbers he can track through Facebook, the post got around 55,000 views.
The texting while driving post got around 12,000 views itself.
“I was able to hit almost half the population, I hope, of this area talking about something really, really important,” Brown said.
The Facebook page has also helped solve crimes. Brown said the best example was a post about a man going into World’s Gym and stealing from people’s lockers. Surveillance footage of the man was shared on Facebook and eventually seen by an officer in Illinois, a former Fayette County resident, who knew the man’s name.
“We came to find out the guy was wanted in four or five jurisdictions for the same thing,” Brown said.
The response from the community has been impressive. Brown said major incidents tend to grow the base of followers. Last year’s severe ice storm was that kind of event.
“The ice storm was huge for us, it just exploded. We had 50,000 people looking at pictures. It was insane. I was getting information out on roads closed. We were the number one source,” Brown said.
Many posts are more lighthearted, including a recent BOLO (Be on the Lookout) for a child’s lost doll: “BOLO!!! A 3 year old citizen lost her prized possession yesterday! Mom thinks she lost it on a cart path in the area of the amphitheater. If you picked it up can you comment here so we can get it back to her? It’s a plush Elsa doll (about 20 inches tall). Thanks!”
A total of 17 people commented on the post to this point, most of them concerned to find out whether the doll was located.
As of now it appears to be an open case. Any developments will surely be posted to Facebook, so if you want to follow go to the Peachtree City Police Facebook page and give them a like.