Our View: No tent cities, just Facebook

DKS Editors

When David Oliver, chief of the Brimfield Township Police Department, dropped by Franklin Hall on Tuesday to chat with journalism students, he didn’t talk much about arrest numbers, new initiatives or policies. Instead, he elaborated on his celebrity status that largely began years ago in front of a computer screen.

The police department’s Facebook page recently surpassed 88,000 “likes” — it’s decorated with status updates that regularly receive more than 1,000 likes, scores of comments and dozens of shares each.

The rise of a Facebook page may seem unworthy of front-page attention, but it actually is remarkable when put into context.

The population of Brimfield Township is about 10,000 people. That means almost eight out of nine the department’s Facebook friends are from outside its jurisdiction.

Celebrity police chiefs are hard to come by, and police departments as open, transparent and accessible as Oliver’s are even more rare. And beyond basic updates of weather forecasts and community events, Oliver opines on national and cultural issues that relate to Brimfield. Recently, he wrote a 1,000-word “Chief’s Rant” on the issue of having visible police — and guns — in schools.

“Children are not supposed to be afraid of the police … and neither are their parents,” he writes. “Police and families need to work on this relationship … and it takes both sides to do it.”

His profound take on a relevant issue — at its core, just another status update on Facebook — generated more than 1,000 comments. Oliver is using social media the way they should be used, the way we feel they were originally intended. The platform allows him and his department to show a different side. Oliver seems like the kind of guy you can approach at a restaurant, movie or park.

We also don’t believe he’s craving the celebrity status regional media, and some national outlets, that have given him. He’s declined every reality show offer and eschewed some questionable stunts put forth by others, like Maricopa County’s “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio. Arpaio famously instituted volunteer chain gangs, pink underwear and handcuffs and a concentration camp called “Tent City” for his inmates.

This is not something that can only happen in a small town in rural Ohio. Oliver provides an example for how police chiefs everywhere can use social media for meaningful community outreach.