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Posts raise a ruckus

Alexis Barker, News Editor

Several Facebook posts regarding potential illegal activity in the community in recent weeks may have raised more stress than solutions in Newcastle. According to both Newcastle Police Chief Derek Thompson and Weston County Sheriff Bryan Colvard, these public social media postings by citizens can be helpful, but they can also cause issues. 
“The recent Facebook posts seemed to be a double-edged sword,” Thompson said. “While people disseminating information about criminal behavior does raise awareness to a problem and keep the community on the lookout to help solve the case, it can create some undue stress to citizens.” 
Colvard agreed, stating that while the posts, including photos, can be helpful, they can cause undue stress on the community and smaller departments, like those in Newcastle and Weston County. 
“The hard part is you get so much that is false or ambiguous. You have to sort that out, that is hard for smaller agencies,” he said.

However, both he and Thompson acknowledged that neither department experienced an increase in calls during the circulation of the recent non-police, or citizen, posts. 
“The hardest part is picking through all of that (the posted information). In all of that bullshit, there is usually a piece that is useful,” Colvard said. 
He noted that “social media in some instances can get out of control,” making it even harder to sort through the information included in comments. 
“With that said, the good side is, someone can help identify a person for us and we can talk to them,” Colvard said. 
Thompson said that he feels people tend to “jump to conclusions, almost to the point of convicting someone in the public eye without sufficient evidence to support their claims.” 
“In the most recent case, people were wanting photos posted on the police department Facebook page that we could not reasonably tie to any crime, at the time,” Thomspon said. “While, as peace officers, we are supposed to take action against offenders, we are also sworn to uphold the constitutions of the state of Wyoming and the United States; and that means protecting individuals’ rights and freedoms under the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions. We have to be careful what conversations we allow on our Facebook page and what information we disseminate.” 
The trend towards these types of Facebook posts is likely to continue with the increased use of security cameras, Thompson said, and he said it would be helpful if people ensure that what they are posting is accurate information and that they are posting it for the right reasons. 
“It is also critical for citizens to officially report suspicious or criminal circumstances to law enforcement and not just put it on Facebook,” he said. “We need to have an official report so we can ask all of the pertinent questions and make sure we are operating off of the best and most accurate information possible.” 
Thompson said he was surprised that the department was not inundated with calls following the social media posts, and expressed concern that the department may be still battling a public confidence issue. 
To help build that trust, Thomspon said the department has once again begun using Facebook to engage with the public through its official Newcastle Police Department page. The page was set up and is primarily run by officer McKinzie Parrish, although he said that officer Kellie Moran has access to assist when needed. 
“Some of the reasons for getting involved in social media are to help disseminate information, connect with the public in a positive way and provide education,” Thompson said. “I want to try and keep the public better informed about issues we are having within our community and try to encourage people to fix issues on their own before we have to get involved, such as common ordinance violations and traffic issues.” 
He said he also wants to use the page to help develop public trust by keeping the community informed on what the department is doing. Educational posts on common scams, city ordinances and state statutes are also in the works, Thompson said. 
“I’m sure there are many things we can and will utilize social media for in the department,” he said. “With that said, social media is only one of the multiple media outlets we need to utilize.”


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