Arlington police connect with residents via a weekly show

Posted Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- Steve Williams sat in the interview chair and tried to act calm, cool and collected as the police officer peppered him with questions.

It wasn't a position he was used to being in. Normally he's the one trying to cajole answers from people.

Williams, the sergeant over the Arlington Police Department's economic crimes division, wasn't in any kind of trouble. Instead he was being interviewed by Lt. Carol Riddle for an episode of Inside APD, a weekly show that the department's communications office started at the first of the year.

The show, which now has seven episodes, is delivered to the public via YouTube, the city's cable channel and other platforms. It's another way for the department, which has built a heavy social media presence, to connect with residents, said Sgt. Christopher Cook, who oversees the office.

"We use it to spread our message and tell the community about things that sometimes the [news] media doesn't pick up on," he said. "We have a huge amount of talent within our organization and we will capitalize on that."

While Arlington's larger police department neighbors use social media, including online video channels, to spread information, neither Fort Worth nor Dallas has a regular show.

"APD is truly innovative in their use of social media and a model for other departments to follow," said Fort Worth police Sgt. Kelly Peel, supervisor of the public affairs unit.

Dallas police post topical clips on Vimeo, a video-sharing site similar to YouTube. Some are serial, like Chatting With the Chiefs and First Watch.

"The idea has been brought up before of us making a weekly show," said Senior Cpl. Sherri Jeffrey, a police spokeswoman. "I don't know where we are in that process or if we're even going in that direction."

Comfortable exchange

Many police departments are using 21st-century social networking platforms.

They use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube not only to prevent crime but also to publicize good work by officers that the news media may not cover, to provide safety tips and to keep the community posted on emergencies.

Properly used, according to social media experts, such platforms can put the police and the average person on equal footing, fostering a casual exchange in a comfortable manner.

The hosts for Inside APD come from various units. Topics rotate, too, so that the community can get a look behind the scenes at different ways the department provides public safety.

The first episode featured Sgt. Tarrick McGuire and officer Shelia Griffith and focused on homelessness initiatives.

Next came detective Taylor Taylor -- yes, that's her name -- and investigator Diane Brown, who talked about missing persons and the state Silver Alert System.

The most recent episode, released Friday, goes into the field for the first of a three-part look at the K-9 unit.

Other episodes featured the department's award-winning tweet-along program in which officers post Twitter updates about what they encounter during a shift, and the inner workings of the robbery and gang investigations unit.

Future topics for Inside APD will be the SWAT team and the crime scene unit.

In the episode with Williams and Riddle, who supervises youth services, the focus is on tax scams and protection against identity theft.

Among the advice Williams offers is that people should file their income tax returns as soon as they receive all the proper documents because once the IRS accepts a filer's Social Security number, no other returns can be filed with it.

"It's essentially a race to the starting line for these suspects," he says. "Once you file your return, you're locking out other people from filing a return using your name and Social."

A learning curve

To learn more about making videos, members of the communications office visited the police departments in Baltimore, Boston and New York City.

"We used what we learned there to determine what works best for us," Cook said.

The first few episodes were a learning experience, as would be expected, but things are smoothing out.

During the session involving Williams and Riddle, former TV journalist and college professor Lisa Parisot offered pointers like how to cut close-up shots into broader footage of the interview.

Now the videos are shot and edited with Final Cut Pro X by Cook, social media officer Zhivonni McDonnell and civilian spokeswoman Tiara Richard.

"We want every employee in the office to learn how to do it," Cook said.


Patrick Walker, 682-232-4674

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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