Eastern Wake News

Zebulon police ‘want to be your friend’ on social media

Zebulon police Sgt. Ashley Dixon points out recent spikes in activity on the department’s Facebook page in her office in Zebulon, N.C. Wednesday, July 27, 2016.
Zebulon police Sgt. Ashley Dixon points out recent spikes in activity on the department’s Facebook page in her office in Zebulon, N.C. Wednesday, July 27, 2016. amoody@newsobserver.com

Police here want people to “like” and “follow” them on Facebook and Twitter, but not only on the social media sites.

Through its “We want to be your friend” campaign, the Zebulon Police Department hopes to reach a new demographic and engage more people of all ages to show them the positive side of police – a side Chief Tim Hayworth says people can’t always appreciate after crossing paths with law enforcement.

“Most people in their day-to-day business do not interact with police in a positive manner,” Hayworth said. “Most situations are tense – they have some sort of negative connotation to them. We want people to experience police when there’s not something wrong going on. It’s my hope and belief that if we get them as our friends on social media and they see our positive stories, that we’re doing more than giving tickets and arresting people, it’s going to be huge toward our relationship between the department and the community.”

The department has traditionally interacted with middle-age and older residents through meetings at churches, civic groups and nursing homes, and house checks. It has also reached the youngest crowd at public events and visits to local schools.

But there’s a gap between children and middle-aged adults, and Hayworth thinks social media is the key to bridging that gap.

“We have to adapt our ways,” Hayworth said. “Even our older generation and middle-aged crowd is getting on board with social media. The goal of this is to start a conversation with our youth, this crowd under the age of 30, and form a relationship with hopes it grows to where we establish trust with our officers, and trust in ways where they wouldn’t communicate with us otherwise.”

While the department has been on Facebook and Twitter since February, 2015, Sgt. Ashley Dixon has been more actively managing the pages with the onset of the campaign over the past month.

Keeping up the pages is time consuming for Dixon, but she said it’s worth the effort.

“We’re able to reach out to the community, whereas typically we may only see people in a call and not in the best circumstances,” Dixon said. “And, let’s face it, everyone has a Facebook and if not a Facebook, then a Twitter.”

The department is using the pages to provide breaking alerts and other information to residents and show the good deeds of officers that might otherwise go unrecognized.

Many of the latest posts are pictures of people stopping by the station to show support for the local police in the days following the recent, contentious incidents involving law enforcement that have occurred across the nation.

Hayworth said the campaign is not directly a response to those incidents, but that they did lead to him think of ways the department could reinforce its community policing approach.

In the first 26 days of July, four informational posts, six showing police-to-community relations and 14 showing public support of Zebulon police were posted to the Facebook page. There were also six visitor posts in that time thanking local officers for the work they do.

“It’s a great place to recognize members of our community,” Dixon said. “It’s very heartwarming to see we have people who care.”

The department’s Facebook page had 1,579 likes as of Wednesday afternoon. Six hundred of those likes have come since June.

Also as of Wednesday, there were 92 followers of @ZebulonPoliceNC, where people can find a mix of unique posts and others originating from Facebook.

“We’re open to dialogue and really and seriously want to be people’s friends, not only on social media,” Hayworth said. “We want to show them, hey, this is what these guys are all about. They’re out there doing good things.”