According to statistics from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Anniston Police Department’s 19,678 Facebook followers are the most in the country for a department with 50 to 99 officers. Anniston ranks 12th overall in the country for city police departments of any size, ahead of many larger departments such as San Antonio, Texas, and Omaha, Neb.
“It’s probably since we’ve been around so long,” said Anniston police Capt. Allen George on the department’s social media popularity. “We were one of the first people to really use Facebook when we started in 2010.”
George, who said he handles 99 percent of the content posted on the department’s Facebook page, said social media has been beneficial in connecting with residents, from posting about traffic and weather, to alerting the public about crimes in their neighborhoods.
“We can reach 20,000 people at the push of a button,” George said.
It’s even helped the department solve some crimes, the captain said. “We post videos and pictures of suspects,” George said. “A lot of times people will comment and tell us they know that person.”
Not too far behind the Anniston Police Department is the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office with 16,405 Facebook likes. That puts the agency second in the country among agencies with 26 to 49 officers.
“It’s kind of been trial by fire,” said Calhoun County Chief Deputy Matthew Wade on the evolving role social media has had at the Sheriff’s Office. Wade said that when he first started using Facebook, he would post news releases, but found over time the best way to reach people was through smaller alerts about what’s going on around the county.
Wade said the Sheriff’s Office picked up thousands of followers during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes, when he was constantly updating the Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page with news he heard from deputies and emergency officials.
The chief deputy said the biggest advantage to using social media is just making sure the office stays connected to the community it serves.
“The biggest difference between Facebook and a regular website is people will communicate with you,” Wade said. “And a lot of it is positive.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.