COVINGTON -- The Covington Police Department is looking for a few friends. They're on Facebook and in less than a week 114 have signed up and they're hoping others in the community will use the social network to get to know them a little better.
"We'd like to see our numbers build up into the thousands, and we know in order to build those numbers, we've got to make it useful and put information out there that is applicable to their well-being," said Capt. Ken Malcom, who is in charge of the department's community policing outreach, adding that police across the U.S. have found social networking an effective way to reach out into the community.
"The whole philosophy of community policing is bringing the police and the community closer together, and I thought Facebook would be a great way of doing that," he said, citing the effective use Athens authorities made of Facebook during a recent incident.
"When they were trying to get the man who shot the police officers to surrender, they reached out on Facebook because they knew that information would get to him," Malcom said. "During that time, their 'likes' grew 10 times. People were going to their site, wanting to express their condolences, but also trying to find out everything they could about it. Athens did an excellent job of getting information out to the public instantly."
Malcom sees several ways the CPD site can be helpful to the general public.
"We want to give information to the citizens of Covington, and it's also a good way to encourage them to give information back. When things happen, when incidents occur that we feel like will affect people, we'll let them know," he said.
Just this week a four-car collision occurred at the intersection of West Street and U.S. Highway 278, closing down all westbound lanes. A warning was posted for motorists to avoid the area.
Malcom said when events occur around town that will cause traffic congestion -- for instance, the big Easter Egg drop planned for the weekend -- or when road construction is in progress, residents are encouraged to go to the site for similar traffic warnings.
"Also, we're focusing a lot of our traffic efforts in a reduction of speed in construction zones and we've posted twice that we're running laser in a construction zone," Malcom said. "We warned people that we're going to be there. We think when our numbers grow ... we'll see a reduction in speeds. And that's what we're trying to do. Ultimately we're trying to slow people down ... make our streets safer by reducing speeds. We're not trying to generate funds."
He said Chief Stacey Cotton plans to make use of the Facebook page by going on line to answer questions from residents at specific times and Malcom said new laws will be discussed and interesting facts will be posted, as well.
He said this week they posted the fact that 1,172 traffic accidents occurred in 2010 and that 40 percent of those accidents happened on private property.
"That lets you know that we need to think about how we drive in parking lots and the shopping centers, be careful backing up, be careful driving through the lanes," he said. "We'll post things like that to let people know what's been happening and what's been our trends."
And, of course, it is hoped the site will be helpful in fighting crime.
"Every time a crime is committed, somebody saw something that will help us -- either during the commission of the crime or right afterwards or right before. Someone saw something," he pointed out. "A lot of times people don't realize what they actually saw until they hear about the incident. But every little bit of information we can get about a case is important. You never know if that little bit of information is what's going to make the case, tie it all together and strengthen the case."
He said the recent GameStar armed robbery was a case in point.
"We were working on this page, trying to get it up and running and I wish we would have had it up that night ... this occurred on 278 and there were probably a thousand cars that drove by this incident, but they had no idea what was going on. We could have put that information out there immediately. Many people have their Facebook accounts on their SmartPhone. They could read that and say, 'Yeah, I just saw a car drive off in a hurry and the guy driving matched that description.'"
He said, in fact, a siting of the car during a Conyers robbery was one of the things that tied the cases together and the suspect was arrested for robberies in multiple jurisdictions.
Malcom emphasized that Facebook was not to take the place of the department's website at www.covingtonpolice.com where complaints and anonymous tips can be given.
"We want it to complement our website. There's lots of things we can do on our website that we cannot do on Facebook. This is just a way of creating the immediate conversation and then we can refer people to ways of giving more detailed information," he said.
Malcom said he is hopeful the community will see the site as just another way the police can help them.
"We want to let people know we're there, encourage people to like us and encourage them to use the site and help us help them," he said.
The CPD Facebook site is at Covington (Ga.) Police Dept.