This Sheriff encourages the use of Facebook while on-duty.

How the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office increased Facebook traffic by 1,800% creating a powerful crime fighting tool for investigators.

Sheriff Sam Cochran

(Mobile, Alabama) — Before raising his right hand to take the oath of office to become the Sheriff of Mobile County, Alabama, Sam Cochran had already served ten years as Police Chief of Alabama’s second largest city.

He had campaigned on the promise to “fight crime with a fury”. A promise he knew would only come true if his team built a strategy around using technology in brand new ways.


“We all agreed that the old days of beating the streets was not fast enough to keep up with the younger more tech savvy criminals roaming our streets”

Sheriff Sam Cochran


In 2007 one of the first projects to use technology was a program named “Meth Text”. This anonymous interactive text messaging program was the face of an intense initiative to slow the sale of Methamphetamine in the area. Behind the scenes, work was being done to pass new laws restricting the sale of the key ingredients needed to manufacture the deadly drug.

Investigators were preparing for an all out assault on the labs that were used to “cook” the highly sought after white crystals. But they needed more information from the public. They were well aware that more often than not a person knew their neighbor was manufacturing meth because of the horrible smell that would be released during the process.

“Meth Text” allowed the public to interact directly with investigators by sending anonymous tips that could be acted on immediately.

Before long the program had netted the destruction of over 500 Meth Labs and the arrest of hundreds of people involved in the manufacture or sell of methamphetamine.

This was the department’s first dip into the social waters and it certainly wet their appetite for two things:

  1. More public engagement
  2. More data driven investigations

Predicting Crime

Sheriff Cochran’s top cop is longtime aide, David Wilhelm. As Chief Deputy, Wilhelm oversees all field operations and was the force behind writing the new data driven crime fighting strategies that the office was implementing.

The face of this new strategy was something called the “Fusion Center”, a sci-fi looking room full of high definition screens, high speed computers, and video conferencing cameras.

The real work horse of the program was the behind the scenes effort to gather intelligence and data that would help direct resources to “hot spots” of crimes by predicting where they would likely occur.

This has proven to be a very effective strategy according to Chief Wilhelm.


“We have a seen a measurable impact related to our efforts to target hot spots using data driven strategies.”

Chief Deputy David Wilhelm


Time to go Viral

Facebook was not new to the department but was lacking in any real strategy and in order to match the high tech efforts of their crime fighting strategies — a face lift was in order.

The new social strategy was based on the techniques used by investigators since the first badge was issued. “Beat the street” meant speaking to as many neighbors, informants, and people as possible to learn as much as possible about a crime.

The obvious limitation to this is manpower. There are only so many detectives and so many hours in a day all the while new crimes are being added to the list.

Detectives now receive tips and information from the public who follow crime stories in their news feed

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow the MCSO to speak to thousands of people with the click of a button. By engaging in conversations with the public through online chats, investigators are able broaden their reach with little effort.

At the time the new effort began the office had around 2,500 followers on Facebook with very little engagement.

The plan to strengthen their social media presence included the following steps:

Daily posts with content that involved ongoing criminal investigations, crime prevention, or public information.
Geo-targeting posts to areas relevant to criminal investigations
Training deputies on the street how to use Facebook so that “live” information could be posted from the scene of an incident.
Around the clock monitoring of incoming information from followers such as direct messages or comments to posts.
The timely sharing of information from followers back to investigators.

Right out of the gate the Sheriff’s Office used social media to distribute a video fighting a state law that would allow kids to have handguns in their vehicle.

At the start of their new social efforts the office was reaching around 1,100 people per post on Facebook generating about 350 clicks per post.

With just 3 months of consistent effort following a new strategy using interesting and “live” content, their reach was now at over 15,000 people generating 3,000 post clicks.

Take a look at this post from June 2014 to find a stolen car.

This post to locate a stolen car generated 1,538% increase in traffic compared to previous posts that month.

So how how do bigger numbers impact crime fighting in Mobile County?

Simple.

The more people the MCSO is able to reach with their postings, the more likely they are to receive back actionable information from the public.

Fast forward to January 2015 and posts made today are hitting as many as 50,000 people per week including post clicks as high as 11,000. This represents a 1,800% increase in post engagement compared to March 2014.


“We are seeing more and more immediate results from our posts that are leading to arrests on cases that had zero leads when we published them to Facebook and Twitter. Our engagement has led to a very energized audience that has joined Team Sheriff in helping to solve crimes.”

Lori Myles

Mobile County Sheriff’s Office Public Affairs

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