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Face (book) time: BPD hits the social media

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More than 200 sign up on page on first day

By Tom Wilmoth

The Bedford Police Department has joined the world of social media.

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    After putting its foot in the social water last year through the Web site Nixle.com, the BPD has jumped in head first by publishing its own Facebook page.
    And people are responding.
    In less than 24 hours after signing on, 200 people had joined the department’s Facebook page. Within a week, that had gone over 250. And in that week, close to 1,000 people had visited the page.
    “I was astonished at how many people were keeping up with this and had any kind of interest at all, wondering what was going on with the city of Bedford Police Department,” stated BPD Chief Jim Day. “I’ve been real happy with it.”
    Nixle, a free service for public safety and other government agencies, provided the department with an opportunity to contact those who signed up through emails or text messages, on a limited basis. As many as 100 people had signed up.
    Day, however, said there were limitations to that service. “We’re still going to use it,” he said of Nixle.
    But Facebook is proving to be more popular.

“Facebook has grown to be such a huge phenomenon for people who are into any kind of technology,” Day said. “Even for people who are not really into it, a lot of them still use Facebook.”
    And it’s easy to use. “It is so user friendly for someone like me who is not a real tech-geek,” Day said.
    Day posted the first item to the page on Dec. 27 and postings have included links to news stories, reports on officers who have received commendations and most recently a post about a man wanted by the police department.
    Day said one link to a Bulletin news story about tractor-trailers using the intersection at Main and Bridge Street, brought immediate comments
    “People are so tied into Facebook now,” he said.
    Day got the idea after attending a training session in which half of it was devoted to the social media. The public information officer with the Virginia State Police led that discussion. VSP has its own Facebook page and more than 24,000 people have joined it.
    “There is no question in my mind it will be utilized by a lot more people than Nixle,” Day said.
    One item Day posted is a notice that Bedford is one of 33 communities in Virginia that have met the criteria as being cited as a storm-ready community by the National Weather Service. “We put a link to that so people could go and see what that’s about,” he said.
    Other possible postings viewers of the BPD Facebook page might see include RADAR locations for the week, street closures or special events that are taking place that could affect traffic.
    “It’s such a great thing to put out that notice and let people know something is going on,” he said. “Some of those things are probably not newspaper worthy but they are Facebook worthy for people who want to know what’s going on with the police department.”
    Day said he received some advice from the VSP representative before publishing the BPD Facebook page.
    “I looked it up to see what it looked like,” he said of the VSP site. “There’s a tremendous amount of information there.”
    His goal: “If we could get 1,000 people in this general area (on our page) then I would be pretty happy with that.”
    He said the page has already generated some good comments from those who have posted about items there.
    “There are quite a few departments that are starting to take advantage of this,” he said of Facebook. “It’s so easy and it is free.”
    And those that haven’t yet taken that opportunity: “You’re losing a good opportunity to notify the public of important information and other interesting information.”
    Day, who is currently the only department member updating the site, said he checks it three or four times a day. Eventually, he said, other department members will be utilized to update the site.
    “We will respond to every comment, good or bad,” he said of the page. Day added, however, that the page is not the appropriate place for individuals to go and criticize particular officers.
    The site also allows the department to post photographs as well as videos.
    “It’s going to allow us to get some information out to the public that they probably otherwise wouldn’t get,” he said.
    The site is listed under Bedford VA Police Department.