DeKalb goes digital

By Olivia Willoughby

The DeKalb police and fire departments have begun using Facebook as a way to reach the public, said Tracy Smith, fire department administrative sergeant.

The city of DeKalb has created three different Facebook pages: the fire department, the police department and a general city of DeKalb page.

“Facebook is the way,” Smith said. “It’s a communication tool and we’re trying to keep up with the times.”

Smith said several agencies are moving to social media to get information out to the public in a much quicker and more efficient way. Although news broadcasts and newspapers can send this information out, Smith said having a Facebook makes it even faster.

“Some people have Facebook on their phones or the apps for it,” he said. “This way, we can get those updates to them quicker. It’s a good communication tool for law enforcement.”

The citywide decision to create these Facebook pages came about sometime last year with the Citizen’s Community Enhancement Committee, said Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu.

“We want to get announcements or notices out as soon as possible,” Espiritu said. “Social media is a way people can get information now. We can allow students and residents to find out as soon as we know. It’s so they can get it in real time.”

While Espiritu said their primary focus is getting DeKalb citizens notified in a timely and efficient manner, other uses for the Facebook pages have also been considered, such as posting criminal reports on their walls.

“We have a potential to post wanted persons, but we’re not sure,” Smith said. “It doesn’t mean it won’t ever be that way. You never know. There are all sorts of things we can do with it.”

While considering this idea, Smith said there could also be potential problems, such as the departments not checking the pages or responding immediately when crime has been reported on the walls.

“With Facebook, you don’t generally have that two-way conversation all the time,” Smith said. “When you use Facebook, you may post something and we’ll check it a half hour later and may realize we should have reported to the scene earlier.”

Smith instead suggests residents continue reporting crime or tips by phone to reduce any potential delayed responses.

Another issue the departments and city may face with their Facebook pages is moderating comments, said Interim Fire Chief Eric Hicks.

“That’s our biggest challenge,” Hicks said. “We do have terms of use, but we don’t expect people to comment on a day-to-day basis.”

Other uses of the three Facebook pages include notifying tornado watches and warnings, road closures, storm warnings and parking restrictions, Smith said.