Waterford - The town's police department has started profiling officers on its Facebook page - the only local department to do so.
On the same page the department is posting information on police investigations, road closures, emergency notifications and scam alerts, ever since police Chief Murray J. Pendleton noticed residents were getting information from Facebook rather than the town website after Tropical Storm Irene and the snowstorm of October 2011.
The department wasn't always so open to the public, Pendleton said. He started to recognize the power and reach of Facebook and Twitter after he and Lt. Brett Mahoney attended police training events with a focus on social media development.
"We weren't big believers in Facebook," Pendleton said. "We dabbled in Twitter, but I think a lot of us came to the realization that if we proceed carefully and don't attempt to accomplish everything on the page at once and expand our network of partners, we could think of something that was workable for the community, and at the same time enhance our ability to communicate with the public."
When the page featured a picture of a man accused of attaching a small camera to the top of his shoe to peep into dressing rooms at the Crystal Mall, Mahoney said, tips as to his identity came in. A man was arrested and was charged in October with two counts of voyeurism, two counts of disorderly conduct and risk of injury to a minor.
Mahoney also posts closed-circuit video surveillance stills from thefts at shopping centers and convenience stores, asking for help in identifying a person or the license plate of a vehicle driving away from a scene.
"The page has been active since 2007 or 2008, but we've not paid any attention to it unless we had something that was really imperative," Mahoney said recently. "But now it's become 'Here's what we do, and we not only want your help but we want you to know what's going on here, and we want you to be proud of your police department.'"
He was managing the Facebook page by himself, but since it has taken on a bigger life he's enlisted the help of other officers to post information, answer messages and reply to posts. Nearly 1,500 people have "liked" the department's page and that number continues to grow.
Earlier this month, a picture of Skyler Henry, 12, appeared on the department's page. She found several purses and wallets that had been discarded near her house, and after she told her parents they called the police.
"As a result, numerous people were able to get their belongings back, including driver's licenses, Social Security cards, credit cards and other important items," Mahoney wrote on the Facebook post.
He said it was the page's most popular post - with 1,268 "likes"- and Skyler's diligence earned her retweets on Twitter, cyber high-fives and positive comments on the post.
"It shows there are a lot of good, decent people in the world. The news media often portrays some pretty negative things, so this shows a lot more than just the four walls of the PD," Mahoney said. "This isn't the Waterford's Police Department Facebook page; this is the Waterford community Facebook page and the region's Facebook page."
Profile pros and cons
When a profile of an officer is posted, the "likes" pour in and those who recognize officers or have lost touch over time often chime in and leave their well-wishes. About 55 percent of the Waterford police officers are from this area, so people often recognize their faces.
Officer David Anderson recently made his debut on the department's page, with some reservations.
"All the people putting 'likes' on Facebook make you feel good," he said. "You're not in the job very long if you're only in it for pats on the back, though."
He recently created a personal Facebook page because his friends would tag and post photos of him there instead of emailing the photos to him.
"No one emails anymore, and I'm going crazy with all the people who want to be my friend. I'm probably going to be an ex-Facebooker faster than I'm becoming a Facebooker," he said.
Anderson is one of a handful of profiled officers. Some choose not to be profiled because they like to keep their private lives private.
"We do get positive feedback, which is nice, but it does make officers hesitate because for as many good people out there who are reading about you and your skills and your family, there are people out there who will use your information the wrong way," Anderson said.