Monday, July 13, 2015

Rural police say social media not the forum to request emergency assistance; 911 best option

Some rural police departments are seeing an increase in the number of people reporting emergencies to social media pages instead of calling 911, Erin Beck reports for the Charleston Gazette. The problem is that many police departments are unable to monitor sites 24 hours per day, meaning that a reported emergency may not be noticed for hours.

State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous told Beck, “We have a generation now that are becoming young adults. That’s how they communicate. That’s all they’ve ever known is to communicate with text messages and emails and in messages. They weren’t raised in an environment where you had to actually pick up the phone and call somebody and talk to them or stop in a detachment and ask for help.”

Captain James Agee of the St. Albans Police Department, which has a 26-person staff covering a town of 11,000, set up a Facebook profile so he could interact with the community, Beck writes. But the site has received several messages reporting emergencies. Agee told Beck, “If it’s at two or three in the morning, I’m really not going to see that." Luckily, he said, none of the emergencies have involved anything more serious than a suspicious car or a loud disturbance. (City-Data map)

Steve Rutherford, support services coordinator for the 911 center in Cabell County in the southwestern part of the state, said the agency uses social media to keep residents up to date on recent arrests and happenings, Beck writes. Still, some people message the site with emergencies. Rutherford told Beck, "Social media is not something we have gone to as a means of 24-hour communication at this point. 911 will probably always be the quickest way to get police assistance. Ten years from now, it may progress to that point as police departments get younger and more members are social media savvy. Ten years ago, it didn’t exist.” (Read more)

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