The type of crime creeping into Springfield is changing.
"Drug use, gangs coming into the area," said Josephine Coleman of Springfield.
It's making many folks uncomfortable, especially when they couldn't get access to the facts.
"You hear gunshots and you don't know anything until a couple of weeks later in the newspaper," said Julie Beauchain, who owns a salon in Springfield.
Springfield Police decided it was time to try something new. They fired up a Facebook page and banked on the power of social media.
"It's the way of communications now," Springfield Police Chief Doug Johnston said. "It's the way to get out to the people."
Apparently it's working. More than 2,000 fans now follow what the department posts.
"It's just one click away basically," said Gary Paradis of Springfield.
"It gives my bosses an idea of what's going on in their block," said Jennifer Cole-Dawson, who works in Springfield.
The department uses the public forum to post weekly summaries of the calls officers respond to, as well as noteworthy pictures, like a close encounter with an impaired driver. Press releases go into greater detail about the bigger cases. This is where most departments that have a Facebook page stop. But Springfield decided to push the envelope, answering questions about the law, due process and constitutional rights.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: Is it scary to engage the public in this way?
Chief Doug Johnston: No, I don't think so, because we're putting out facts. We're not debating issues over the Facebook page.
But the conversations typically turn to emotionally charged topics and the department can't keep users from arguing online. Johnston says it's a fine line for the department and it takes a lot of manpower to monitor the posts.
"We got to remember that all people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law and they have a right to a fair trial, so you got to be careful about what you post," Johnston said.
He says it's a risk he's willing to take because the information flows both ways. Tips range from commuters telling police where people are speeding to informants sending messages about drug activity. The leap into cyberspace wasn't the chief's idea, but he's happy his young staff pushed him into it.
"They're trying to get me to go to the Twitter, too, now," he said. "So we'll see what happens on that."
It's a social media experiment he's willing to continue as far as the law will allow.
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