- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

BOURNE, Mass. (AP) - There are plenty of “alternatives” to cross the Cape Cod Canal when bridge traffic clogs the roadways. But the only way to know about them is to check out the Bourne Police Department’s Facebook page.

“This summer has seen the introduction of the Canal Zip Line, 2 Canal Catapults, the Canal Cannon and the Canal Ferry, while capacity improvements have been made to the existing Canal Tunnel and Submarine service,” was a Sept. 4 post on the Bourne page. This post drew 1,474 “likes.”

It’s this kind of goofy, imaginative content that has made the BPD Facebook page wildly popular among residents, visitors, and catapult-users alike, and gained the page 28,500 followers since its founding in February 2013 - more followers than there are people living year-round in Bourne.

Lighthearted posts about “minion sightings,” bridge travel, and the Bourne Police Bed and Breakfast (the local lockup) serve as a hook to draw community members to the site to make sure they have vital public information.

“(Social media) is the best way to get your message out to the public unfiltered,” said Lt. Brandon Esip, who helps run the department’s social media efforts, though he stressed that many others have a part in putting out their content. “We use it primarily to get information out about our activity, or public safety-related events.”

Every Monday morning, the department writes a weekly report from its “short-term occupancy inn,” other times referred to as “the B&B; by the Sea,” describing different activities that “guests” have taken part in to earn their stay. An excerpt from last week’s entry reads: “Several guests were found operating their horseless carriages . after having their state issued operators permits suspended. We had one guest even attempt to operate said carriage after sampling some forbidden magical herbs.”

These tongue-in-cheek crime reports may be amusing, but they keep people informed about what each week looks like for the department, Esip said.

“While we do highlight some particular arrests, other people make mistakes. They’re not lifelong criminals. We can still let people know what our activity is, but be generic about the names and incidents. And it does give it a little more interesting spin,” he said.

“We want to be completely open with the community,” he said. “There’s nothing we want to hide. We’re not afraid to say the numbers.”

“Keep up the stellar reporting of the Weekend Follies … You have many fans and we look forward to your weekend reviews on a Monday morning,” commented Facebook user Laura Donovan Kearns in a recent post.

Keri Lac commented in another post: “I love the comedy mixed with seriousness. Thank you for keeping the area safe and happy.”

While Bourne has the most popular page on the Cape, it is not by any means the only department to use social media, nor was it the first.

The Yarmouth Police Department was the first Cape police force to create a Facebook page, in August 2010.

Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson echoed Esip, saying that people are “hungry for information” about what’s happening in their community.

“When it comes to crime and public safety, people really want to know, and it’s a very effective tool to use,” he said. “It is a multifaceted tool that can be used for a lot of different things. We’ve been able to grow it with different uses as we’ve learned the ups and downs of social media.”

In addition to reporting on crime, Frederickson said, Yarmouth police use their Facebook and Twitter accounts to put out things like storm notifications and community event promotions.

He said that the use of social media represents an evolution of community policing efforts. “We now call it social policing, using different social media to be part of the policing philosophy,” he said.

In Orleans, the Police Department has instituted #FacebookCopFriday, where police publish a scenario, and ask readers how they would handle the situation. “A lot of people have questions about how law enforcement handles certain things, situations that we might encounter on a day-to-day basis,” said Lt. Kevin Higgins.

Higgins said his department’s social media philosophy is to be informative, with a little humor.

“We want to share as much info as we can to help the public,” he said. “Some of the info we have to put out there isn’t always the most pleasant. If there’s going to be a road closure or traffic issue, people voice their concerns, and we enjoy having the two-way conversation.”

The page can also have very practical purposes. Higgins pointed to a post from July 30, informing residents about a missing dog. The post was shared 450 times, and the dog was found by someone who had seen the notice on Facebook.

Sandwich police use their Facebook page for many of the same reasons, especially gathering feedback from community members.

“It’s a way for people to make suggestions without picking up the phone,” said Sgt. Josh Bound, who helps run the department’s Facebook page. “We’ve posted pictures of our speed trailer in different areas of town, and then gotten requests from people suggesting problem areas for speeding.”

“Obviously, social media is the way a lot of people are communicating now. We’re trying to take advantage of that to get messages out to the community,” he said.

Bound said social media represents an evolution in policing.

“We’re going to have to keep learning to evolve with it in how we get our messages out,” he said.

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Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodonline.com

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