Brooks’ Safe Communities Committee and Community Policing Unit have seen great success on an unexpected worldwide scale, thanks to the use of social media platforms; in particular, TikTok.
While they are also active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the use of Tiktok has allowed them to reach a wider and younger audience, said Kendra Seiben, Safe Communities Facilitator.
“On our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages we have more of a local audience so that's definitely the social media that we use if we just want to reach our local area especially for events or just relevant local safety information,” said Seiben. “But that broader impact that we have is on TikTok, and only 70% of our followers are from Canada. The rest are from all over the world.”
The account boasts nearly 107,000 followers, with significant engagement both on posted videos and livestream events called TikTok Lives hosted through the app, with some videos having over a million views. Seiben considers this a great success.
“People are just genuinely interested and have questions, but they don't necessarily have an opportunity to speak to a police officer,” said Cpl. Josh Argue, Unit Lead for the Community Policing Unit. “Everyone says you know if you want to, you can just go down to your local detachment or police agency wherever you like, but no one really does that. This way, you're face to face, you have instant face time with a police officer or social worker when we do our lives, but you don't have to leave the comfort of wherever you are. So it's that it's taking that exact same concept of foot patrols, which is a very basic part of community policing and modernizing it and we're just doing a digital foot patrol every time we do a TikTok live.”
The content is both generated by the unit and by their audience, due to the ability to respond to a comment with a video response built into the app, said Seiben.
“The way that we have kind of fashioned our page is that it's a very Question and Answer kind of thing, so we will answer questions given in our comments,” said Seiben. “And we answer them for everyone to see. Like Josh said, in our Lives, we have people come forward, we say don't feel scared to ask us the hard questions and stuff like that, we just ask that everyone remains respectful. And we've had people ask very hot topics in terms of policing, enforcement, anything like those things that have gone on in history. And after we have had a chance to actually acknowledge and answer that question of that concern, they've actually come back on and thanked us for that and said that no one else is taking the time to give me a straightforward answer, or everyone's always found a way to avoid the question.”
The account has received some negative attention, said Seiben, largely regarding the notion of police on social media, but notes that their overarching audience is largely very respectful and has at times done more policing of their comments than Safe Communities does themselves.
Argue notes that not everyone has positive experiences with the police, and respects that people may ask pointed questions or make off the cuff remarks about the job without it becoming a negative interaction.
In the Community Policing Unit, he considers it “doing his job right” when he can provide policing services without being seen as a police officer.
“So many people have questions and they might have fears, or even if they might have a warrant of some sort, and they still might have something else on the go that they want to call about, it's very important that they know it will hold them accountable right and we'll be there but while we're helping them we're that neutral being,” said Argue. “We're there to provide policing services to them and help them navigate those without them viewing us as traditional police. That to me is one of the biggest successes and the most meaningful change that we can do in our communities is with our youth, and I firmly believe and I will I will debate this, there's no greater community to make change at the grassroots level than Brooks, Alberta and that's just strictly on the makeup of our community.”
Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prairie Post East