Eau Claire police Officer Kyle Roder recently traveled to Appleton to make a presentation about the tools of his trade.
It didn’t touch on guns, tear gas, Tasers, handcuffs or any of the other things that might immediately come to mind after watching national media reports about police-community conflict.
Instead, Roder, one of the Eau Claire Police Department’s public information officers, talked about Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — the same social media platforms we parents often tell our kids to stop using so much — at the Governor’s Conference on Highway Safety. For his Twitter followers, Roder even provided light-hearted updates along the way such as a photo of his presenter name badge with the words “#RealDeal.”
Roder, you see, has become a sort of social media guru for law enforcement since his first forays into uncharted digital airwaves five years ago and thus has consulted with agencies throughout the country on ways to use social media to communicate and connect with their communities. In 2014, he guided the Eau Claire department to international recognition by winning the ConnectedCOPS Award of Excellence at a Small Agency and the following year he was named a finalist for the ConnectedCOPS Leadership Award for his work helping other agencies.
The key to Roder’s social media prowess, in my view, is his ability to find an appropriate balance between being entertaining and simply presenting information in a dry, straightforward manner. He strives to find the right tone.
“We can’t put it out like a news release with this government voice” or people will tune out, he said. “We have to put it out like we are, like officers who live next door to you that you can talk to one-on-one, face-to-face. That’s how we feel we get the best bang for our buck.”
In just the past week, Roder has tweeted to the 7,552 followers of the department’s official @EauClairePD account everything from serious alerts about traffic crashes to a silly video of a flashing lighthouse “in case you need help getting to work this morning.”
On Thursday, in response to a humorous video the Milwaukee Bucks put out of team members struggling to pronounce Eau Claire, Roder tweeted, “Hey @Bucks, get out of the BIG city & @RoderECPD will give you a personal tour of the BEST city, #EauClaire.” The Bucks responded, “We love Eau Claire! See you soon!!”
Then on Friday Roder took it up a notch, tweeting, “Yesterday we were troubled to learn that many of the @Bucks players couldn’t pronounce Eau Claire. Now it’s our turn. #fearthedeer,” and posting a hilarious video of several Eau Claire officers attempting to pronounce the names of Bucks players. While they pretended to struggle with such simple names as Greg Monroe and John Henson, they didn’t even hesitate when pronouncing such foreign tongue twisters as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mirza Teletovic.
The Eau Claire Police Department gained the most social media attention through two other videos that went viral. The first, posted in 2014, showed dash cam video of Officer Kevin Putzy stopping traffic so a family of ducks could cross Clairemont Avenue. The video, which attracted attention from as far away as the Netherlands, has had nearly 3 million views. At the time, the New York Police Department was taking grief about some of its practices on social media, and People magazine’s website suggested NYPD should take some social media cues from ECPD.
Just this March, Roder posted a video of him returning a call from a con artist claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service and telling him he had committed fraud and would be arrested if he didn’t call back. Roder, who had a little fun at the scammer’s expense, figured it would be a good chance to educate the public about such scams. The video has generated more than 15 million views and attracted media attention from such national news outlets as “Good Morning America” and The Huffington Post.
A New York Post article about the video referred to Roder as a “sharp-as-cheddar Wisconsin cop,” to which Roder replied on Twitter, “I’ve been called worse.”
While the attention is nice, Roder insisted the intent of such posts is never to seek likes, shares and comments. It’s to share information and project a positive image of Eau Claire and its police department.
“It shows people that the city of Eau Claire is a great community because they did this when in fact we’re a great community because we do so many other things,” he said. “This is just a representation that symbolizes the greatness of us, and it’s something we know can sell more broadly.”
The department also uses its social media accounts to answer questions directly from residents and even, on occasion, to get help identifying suspects of a crime.
Roder acknowledged his attitude has done a complete, 180-degree turn when it comes to social media — going from not knowing much about it or trusting it in 2012 to thinking about it all the time, even while off duty.
Twitter has become his weapon of choice at work, and he wields it in a way intended to build trust at a time of increasing tension nationwide between police and residents.
“Anytime you can connect with your community — whether it’s in person at events, and we do a ton of that, or on social media — and interact with them in a positive way, I think it’s a good thing,” Roder said. “That doesn’t mean we’re covering up any negatives, but we’re sharing a genuine message about who we are and our connections with the community. If there is a gap, it bridges that a little bit and allows for another avenue for people to connect with us.”
Keep tweeting, Officer Roder.
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