David Oliver is the police chief of Brimfield, Ohio. In May of 2010 he started a Facebook page for local news, hoping that he'd get maybe a few hundred likes. Today his posts reach not only the residents of his small northeastern Ohio town, but more than 62,000 fans worldwide. Even though Brimfield only has a population of 10,400.
The reason the Brimfield Police Department's Facebook page has become one of the most-liked local police pages in the country is all thanks to Oliver's signature style. He's not afraid to pepper his crime reports with language his detractors call unprofessional, and it raises an interesting question about social media. Should a public employee be allowed to post snarky comments about criminals, which he calls "mopes"? Or should Oliver be expected to keep his opinions to himself?
Here's an example of one of Oliver's recent crime narratives:
Two females arrested. ... They walked into the store thin and walked out much 'thicker.' We are thinking it was the additional shirts and 'booty' shorts they put on under their own clothing...Their 'booties' and the rest of them were taken to the bed and breakfast ... where the shorts are longer ... and so are the days.
He has a habit of referring to criminals as mopes, a term used in the 1970s cop show Kojak, and he says if you don't like the name there's a simple way to avoid having it associated with you:
I call criminals mopes. I do not comment on them being ugly, smelly or otherwise beauty impaired ... even though some are. I do not comment on their education, social status, color, sex, origin or who they marry. I care about crime and character. If you come to Brimfield and commit a crime we are all going to talk about it. The easiest way to not be called a criminal is to not be one. It is not calculus.
Oliver's straight-talking style has clearly earned him a fan base -- only the New York, Boston and Philadelphia police departments have more likes on Facebook -- but he's gotten his fair share of backlash too. In fact, he's posted some of the most common complaints, along with his blunt responses:
"You’re wasting tax payer dollars.” I work lots of hours every day. I do something related to this job seven days per week. I post here, post at home and once posted about a lost dog while cutting my lawn. Our taxpayers get their money’s worth, I guarantee it.
“You’re fat (you can’t chase people, get off Facebook etc., etc., etc.)” Why… yes I am a portly fella. I make up for it with stellar good looks, a charming personality and good personal hygiene. Actually, I’m just short for my weight. I don’t need to chase people. We have four K-9 units and I hire very fast officers….and I have a car. Besides, if I choose to, I can lose weight. You can’t lose ignorance.
“A police chief should not say the things you say.” Well, someone needs to. We have become this touchy feely bunch of sissified victims. Criminals are no longer responsible for what they do because of their “rough childhood” or "circumstances." Everyone has an excuse. My belief is that we ALL are accountable for our actions. We all have free will. If your free will involves you selling drugs, raping, robbing or otherwise creating victims….you need to be locked down in an adult timeout. When you go to timeout, we can’t be the push-over parents who get tired of hearing you cry and let you out early. Do the crime, do the time. If we ever tried it, I bet it would work.
Oliver says that as a public servant he has "a duty to be where the public is and engage them wherever we can," and that while running the Facebook page with the help of his staff adds three hours to his day, he's happy to do it.
Personally, I love what he's doing. I wish our town had a Facebook page like that, because it's not only entertaining, it fosters a sense of community. He shares all kinds of stuff, from police patrols to weather reports to community event notices, birthday wishes, and quotes of the day.
Plus, he polices the page as much he does the town. Oliver deletes profanity-laced and threatening content, and keeps all personal details, like names and mug shots, off the page. To me it seems like a really clever use of social media to keep his town engaged and informed.
As for those so-called mopes, Oliver says everyone has a shot at redemption:
We do not believe everyone who has ever committed a crime is a mope. People change. I am the unofficial spokesperson for turning it around. I was sort of wild in my younger days. I was not a criminal, but I lacked some character. Mrs. Chief changed all of that, because she is no nonsense. Shenanigans are fine. Nonsense is not. The point is as I have said before….once a mope, not always a mope. If you are a reformed mope, welcome.
What do you think of the Brimfield Police Department's Facebook page? Do you think it's a good use of a police chief's time?
Image via BrimfieldPolice/Facebook