Dover Police use lighter side of social media to bring results

City police used a photograph of Prince Harry to attract job applicants via Facebook last week. Submitted photos/Dover Police Department

DOVER — And the social media hits just keep on coming for Dover Police.

Last week, a light-hearted Prince Harry-inspired Facebook post promoted recruiting efforts for an extremely serious career.

The item reached 407,000 people in two weeks, prompting dozens of emails to the department that brought at least 20 job applications submitted.

About 25 percent of Dover PD’s 80 or so job applications on file arrived after the Prince Harry post, which included his image.

“In regards to recruiting, not only does it help us get more applicants, but it also sells the fact that despite the serious nature of our line of work, that the Dover Police Department is a great and fun place to have a law enforcement career,” spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

On Tuesday, a headline read “HEY, MR. (LAST NAME)! CAN YOU COME CLAIM YOUR STUFF?🗣” Police were seeking a man (his name was in the headline, his photo included) on pending drug charges.

That one included a picture of the 1,300 bags of heroin confiscated and an array of big bills totaling $2,500 in suspected illegal proceeds spread across a table.

Police aimed to spur the fugitive to turn himself in or perhaps reach someone able to provide information on his whereabouts. The post garnered more than 30,000 views within 24 hours.

“The other goal of that post is to continue to show the public the excellent work our officers are doing to take heroin off of the streets,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

At the same time, a routine post with photos of seven arrestees on Collins Drive, plus drugs and firearms seized was viewed by 10,000 people.

Only Delaware State Police have a larger social media following than Dover, Cpl. Hoffman said. The department received the ConnectedCOPS Award for Social Media Leadership in 2015.

Other attention getters

No post may ever top the 2015 YouTube of Dover PD Master Cpl. Jeff Davis lip synching to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” while on patrol. The rendition drew 19 million views in just four days and Cpl. Davis was a guest on Good Morning America soon afterward.

That production became somewhat of a one-hit wonder, since a similarly-themed followup rendition drew noticeably less attention than the original megahit.

“Our goal is never to become ‘famous’ or go viral with any post,” Cpl. Hoffman said. “Our goal is to target our community and get as many local citizens to view our posts as possible.

“Occasionally, a post does go viral and become a bigger story, but our focus is always on our local population.”

Dover Police K-9 officer Gerome appears ready to drive to the nearest Concord Pet Foods & Supplies store.

Also in 2015, an easygoing Facebook post urged upcoming hotel party attendees to mind their manners. The post, which included a #PartyLikeACopStar hashtag, read in part:

“Often times these parties get out of control and lead to fights and other issues. We just want the host to be aware that tattooing in an unsterile environment is very dangerous and operating an unlicensed business is illegal …”

The post warned of a fine of up to $1,000 for overcrowding and possible city ordinance violations, fines and associated legal troubles.

“The party post was based off of an online flier for a party to take place at a hotel,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

“We saw it getting a lot of attention and decided to post about it, using a little humor …”

Police ended the missive, in part, with “Maybe we can just come by the party; it is free right? We’ll bring some friends … See you at 9:30!”

The party was canceled, “stopping what could have been a major issue later that evening,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Another funny production in 2016 involved a sunglass-wearing Dover PD K-9 behind the wheel of a patrol car supposedly driving to the local Concord Pet Foods & Supplies store.

Police posted a photo of staff seemingly installing a “bat signal” on the department’s rooftop for the TV, cartoon, comic book and movie crime fighter’s help on April Fool’s Day 2015,

Posts may take a few minutes but Cpl. Hoffman said they “generally leave a long-lasting positive impression of our agency and the officers that serve and get people to come back and see the stories we publish on the more serious issues we deal with as well, which is more important than anything else,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Attracting new talent

Finding creative ways to attract new officers has never been more important. For seven or eight years now, Dover PD’s applications (along with agencies nationwide) have dropped significantly.

“While there is value to traditional recruiting methods such as job fairs, traditional advertising, etc., sometimes thinking outside the box can help get your agency more attention and help reach your target audience,” spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

The Prince Harry post drew the attention of other law enforcement agencies.

“Because we also advertised our ‘How to Succeed in the Hiring Process’ Seminar on that post, we also received phone calls from out-of-state agencies inquiring about the seminar and its effectiveness as they wanted to begin something similar at their respective agencies,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Dover’s introduction to online communication came at a Social Media Internet Law Enforcement conference.

“There we learned many of the social media strategies we continue to use today and connected with departments all across the United States and the world,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

“I believe we have picked some of the best aspects of how different agencies use social media and implement them into our strategy. Since that initial conference, we have been asked back to speak about our social media strategies at the SMILE Conference and other smaller conferences and groups.”

A colorful approach through social media “has been proven to help us connect with our community, most of which get their news and information online these days.”

The number of followers continues to grow and “When a serious situation arises where information needs to be provided to the public quickly, we can rely on our online community to help us spread those messages that are important to the public’s safety and right to know,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

Putting some “personality” in posts works, police learned through attending various law enforcement social media and public information training courses and conferences.

“Over the last five-plus years of utilizing social media, we have been able to get a pretty good grasp on the types of communication that resonates with the community we serve,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

“In certain situations, it can be very beneficial to take a lighter approach to garner more attention.”

Prevented and solved

Crimes have been solved and prevented through social media tips, suspects identified through posted photos and more.

“We receive tips almost on a daily basis about unsolved crimes, suspicious activity in neighborhoods, as well as minor quality of life issues,” Cpl. Hoffman said.

The community benefits from information released regarding various non-criminal matters as well.

“We want to keep people interested in our agency because it allows us to quickly communicate major issues to the public, such as school lockdowns, weather emergencies, public safety issues, road closures, etc. when they occur, as well as provide them information about the department that serves them,” Cpl. Hoffman said.