Hollister cops met with a dozen local residents over coffee last week for an event aimed at bringing police together with the community they serve.
Coffee with a Cop is a national initiative and in Hollister, Police Chief David Westrick—known for his approachability and use of social media—was in his element at Mars Hill Coffeehouse.
“It helps us communicate with the public, which for me is vital and key to the success of my agency,” said Westrick of the police department’s use of Facebook and Twitter. “But it also helps us convey those messages we’d want to put out.”
While some might think there are drawbacks to putting yourself out there, Westrick said he doesn’t mind.
“I don’t mind listening to folks criticize. I think it helps me do my job better,” he said.
Westrick’s embrace of new modes of communication is not a surprise considering his background.
Hollister’s top cop was a journalist and sports writer before he joined the police academy.
Westrick also runs his own blog and earlier this year gave a talk on the concept of serving and loving mankind from a police chief’s point-of-view at Salinas TEDx.
“It takes an incredible amount of love for me to do my job,” Westrick said during the February conference. “For police officers it’s an act of love everyday they put their uniform on.”
The San Benito County Sheriff’s office communicates important messages through the free, online Nixle service.
“Though we are not opposed to a presence on social media, we simply do not have the staffing or resources to ‘do it right’ at this time,” said Operations Captain Eric Taylor. “Since we are not in a position to adequately monitor and interact with the social media community, we have opted to stay with Nixle until we can ‘do it right.’”
Westrick’s use of social media extends throughout the Hollister Police Department, which uses social media to send out press releases and safety updates around the holidays or when school is back in session.
“Social media allows folks 24/7 to be able to comment either on my page or on the Hollister Police Department page, ask a question or voice a concern,” Westrick said.
Though crime tips traditionally come through the WeTip hotline or the general office number, the police department received a tip on social media right after a homicide.
“We had one years ago for a homicide that came within about three minutes after the homicide,” Westrick said. “It was the suspect’s name, the location, where the guy ran to, all that stuff. More often than not, though, we ask folks to use WeTip or just the phone number.”
The Hollister Police Department isn’t alone in its use of social media. Law enforcement agencies and municipalities across the country are taking to social media to inform constituents of important information. The City of Hollister also maintains a Facebook page.
“I think you’ll see in the next five years that this will be the norm,” Westrick said. “This will be another avenue for communication. If you have the ability to listen to folk’s problems over whatever media, I think it’s a real benefit.”