By Dustin Luca
---- — There was a time when only birds tweeted — then smartphone owners joined the chorus. Now, the Andover Police Department is chiming away in 140 characters or less.
With the new year and a new era of leadership, the department is launching an initiative to engage residents through social media.
The fresh approach comes with an in-house rebooting of the department’s once rarely used Facebook profile, at Facebook.com/AndoverMassPD, and the creation of an official Twitter account, found at the Twitter handle @AndoverMassPD.
By and large, the goal of tapping social media as public outreach is to send a message to residents that the Police Department isn’t only about issuing traffic citations, investigating crimes and responding to accidents, according to Lt. Edward Guy.
“The buzz words for this year are ‘customer service,’ and ensuring we establish better customer service going forward,” Guy said. “We’re making sure we’re more open, more receptive to the community, their needs, their wants, and being able to better communicate with them.”
The department’s Facebook account was already in existence, but used infrequently until dusted off in recent months by Sgt. Chad Cooper, according to officer Charles Edgerly.
Since then, local police have seen the power of social media after the department shared a photo of Det. Kevin Aufiero being recognized by the FBI for his police work earlier this year.
The department, which had only a little more than 400 likes on its Facebook page at the time, watched the photo get shared on five times as many news feeds as its profile had subscribers, Edgerly said.
The department expects to use its Facebook and Twitter accounts for such things as sharing news on street closures due to accidents or road work, updating storm conditions and a variety of public safety matters, Edgerly said.
The two social media platforms will also announce department programs and events, including a speaker series that is planned this year, Guy said.
There is a sense that this is only the beginning of the department’s digital and online presence.
“As time goes on, we’ll have to look at other avenues since technology is always changing,” Guy said. “There are different trends and waves of technology that come along, and we just have to — in the long term — look at those and see if they fit our need and the public’s need of getting information.”
The Police Department isn’t the only town office finding itself smitten by the social media bug. The Department of Public Works has been relying on social media as a platform for more than a year.
The DPW, which oversees the maintenance and ownership of town roads, parks and grounds, made its leap to social media with the help of a former college intern, according to Business Manager Sandy Gerraughty.
With weather updates, announcements on recycling and trash collection and more descending from cyberspace, tweets and Facebook posts have served as a valuable megaphone for the DPW, she said.
“It has been good to get notices out,” she said.
But while the platform is useful, Gerraughty said she does not see social media replacing other forms of communication with the public.
“Social media doesn’t reach every single person,” she said. “It’s another tool in the tool belt. That’s really what it is. Social media is not going to replace the telephone, people calling when they want information.”