More visitors are coming due to the new Metro Gold Line stations. The student populations at APU and Citrus College are growing. The average Azusa resident is 30 years old.
Given all these factors, the Azusa Police Department (AZPD) recognizes the importance of communicating through social media platforms.
Mike Bires, senior police officer and social media manager for the AZPD, was influential in the department’s social media strategy in early 2012. Chief Officer Sam Gonzalez tasked Bires with reinventing the department’s online presence to encourage stronger community engagement. Bires and his team launched the new website and presence on various sites on January 1, 2014.
Only 15 days later, AZPD saw the benefits of using these platforms as they began communicating important information to local residents regarding the Colby wildfires. According to Bires, it didn’t take long until @AzusaPD was the featured Twitter handle on ABC 7.
The AZPD can currently be found on Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube and Nixel, a communication platform that sends alerts for critical city situations. Each contributes uniquely to the image that Azusa PD is trying to maintain and promote to city residents. Bires is also exploring how to effectively add Snapchat—the third most-downloaded social media app, according to Martin-Wilbourn Partners’ national research study—to the list.
Senior communication studies major Stephen Jackson sees this community outreach effort as an important platform for interacting with residents.
“Social media, like police work, can sometimes be a faceless entity where you know this organization exists but you don’t know what it looks like, how to interact with it or what you can take away from it,” Jackson said. “By using social media that is run by officers and other civilian employees, members from the community are able to take some of that mystery and form connections. It creates better trust and opens communication between the department and those who reside in Azusa.”
This social media strategy is working. Earlier this year, there was an attempted robbery of an APU student at a local store, which was caught on the store’s surveillance video. The police department compiled a video from the footage and published it on both YouTube and Facebook to get help in identifying the suspects. After 10 minutes, an Azusa resident entered the lobby of the police station with the first suspect and the location of the second suspect because she saw the Facebook post.
However, Bires understands that the power of social media is not solely used to capture criminals, but is meant to work with residents to create a safer community.
Jackson agreed with Bires’ perspective that social media is a platform that ignites conversations within the community, specifically millennials. As a college student, Jackson said it is rare to see millennials watching the news or reading the newspaper. However, it is not uncommon to see students scrolling through Twitter.
“Social media can get on millennials’ level and make them feel comfortable,” Jackson said. “[The AZPD] has been doing a fantastic job with their efforts, and people love the live videos that are being posted. It is a fun and interactive way to grab and keep people’s attention.”
Last week, the AZPD posted a live video on Facebook that addressed the demolition of Burger King and the relocation of the Alosta Starbucks. The video reached over 100,000 people and generated more than 26,000 views with 123 comments.
Although the AZPD started using social media as a communication platform in early 2014, the image of police officers became a national issue later that August with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Since that incident, police officers have been scrutinized throughout the country.
“I do not know anything about Ferguson PD; I can only talk from what I believe personally,” Bires said. “The problems in that community were there before the Michael Brown shooting…From my understanding, there wasn’t that big of a social media presence by law enforcement in that community. There was only one side telling that story, only one voice to listen to and that was [the] activists’, members of the community [who] were upset [about] what happened and the rest of the world offering their opinions.”
There are at least two sides to every story, and Bires believes it is important that law enforcement joins those conversations and becomes active participants in building communities toward unity.
Despite police officers facing national scrutiny, Azusa Mayor Joseph Rocha is proud of the work and dedication of Azusa PD has taken in building community relationships and adapting to new forms of technology.
“[Police officers] used to be viewed as an enemy, now they are viewed as our friends,” Rocha said, and added that resident involvement has increased with Azusa PD’s inclusion of social media.
The police department has also partnered with the city of Azusa to offer a variety of community engagement events this year, including Coffee with a Cop, Golden Days Parade and the Canyon City Marathon.
“There is power in unity,” Rocha said. “Once it clicks, it makes a big difference in the community.”
Both the private and law enforcement sectors have benefited from increased social media usage within the criminal justice department. However, Bires is aware of the challenges that social media presents.
“People render opinions that stay online forever,” Bires said. “They render opinions on critical incidents in less than 140 characters… There is no way in 140 characters you can solve an issue or offer a valid, educated opinion as to what happened.”
Despite the difficulty of trying to encapsulate a situation or issue in a limited-character count, Bires commented that the work his department is doing provides a positive image not only to Azusa, but impacts law enforcement as a whole.
“We are using it for our community, to help our community,” Bires said. “But we don’t just help our community…social media is world-wide and it bleeds out everywhere.”
To follow the Azusa Police Department on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube, Nixel and Instagram, search username “Azusa PD.” To get emergency notifications from AZPD, text “AZUSA PD” to 888-777. For more information about AZPD, visit www.AzusaPD.org.