Law enforcement agencies often use social media to share important news and details on situations such as missing or wanted persons and community safety information. In fact, around 91% of law enforcement agencies use social media as part of their public notification strategy, according to The Urban Institute.
However, one Alabama police chief says he is done policing social media after identifying a problem that could put citizens at risk.
Earlier this month, the Argo Police Department was working to track down a suspect and sought public help by posting information online. Before he knew it, Chief Alan Busler said people from the community were volunteering to take matters into their own hands.
"We had multiple people exit a vehicle after it hit on Flock cameras as a stolen vehicle," Busler said. "Officers located the vehicle, and the occupants ran into the woods. We are a department of six people so we don't have all the resources. If we're in the woods looking for someone, I'm in the woods looking. If we were a bigger department, we could probably have a member of command staff sitting in an office monitoring social media, which would be great. But I have to rely on my officers and what backup I can get from other agencies."
Some of the comments on the social media post were from citizens who said they would get out and look for the suspects. They said they would bring their guns and hunt down the suspects. There were also negative comments about the effectiveness of the police department, which is something Busler says he sees on a lot of posts.
"It's mostly filled with anti-police, anti-Argo rhetoric that's just a waste of time," Busler told 1819 News. "I have a general disdain for my guys being out here trying to do their very best for the people of this community, and then that's what they get in return. So, they're seeing this after they are out there risking injury, their own lives, God knows what we're walking into and when it's all said and done, everyone is exhausted, sweating to death and we are already disheartened because we didn't catch the people. Then you see all of these people bashing you on social media.
"It all just started to culminate. I was frustrated with it, and it kind of hit me, struck a cord."
The problems with social media started during the COVID-19 pandemic, Busler said, when many people were stuck inside their homes.
"People started posting on Facebook any time something would happen, whether we were looking for a car, looking for a person, and they posted things they heard on the scanner," said Busler. "Much of it was misinformation.
"I fully support everybody's First Amendment right of free speech. I've got no problem with that. But when things get taken out of context, and false information starts getting put out there, it's more detrimental than it is good.
"Social media is absolutely a good tool if it could just be that. But every time we attempt to post and keep people informed, it's not enough, and we get bashed on for that," said Busler. "Or the hecklers come in, and they take up our page with their spam of, 'They don't know how to do their job!"
The chief said he was also concerned about how the negativity from social media could impact his officers.
"Whichever direction the wind blows is what way the hate goes," said Busler. "I love seeing the people that do stick up for us and know what a great job these guys do and how dedicated they are to the people of this city. Because when I tell you these guys would put their lives on the line for the people of this community, they absolutely would."
Busler said he cannot take the time to police Facebook. He also wants citizens to know that Facebook Messenger or posts are not a replacement for calling 911 during emergencies.
"I'm not going to be policing Facebook anymore," he said. "I am not going to scour the internet because I feel like I'm not doing my job if that's what I'm doing. I believe in good old-fashioned police work."
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