'All criminal activity' canceled during heat wave? How one PD uses satire to engage its community

The Park Forest police operates Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages with followings that dwarf those of most south suburban departments


By Zak Koeske
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

PARK FOREST, Ill. — The Park Forest Police Department received international attention over the weekend for a satirical Facebook post announcing it was “officially cancelling all criminal activity” because of the stifling heat wave that sent temperatures surging into the mid-90s.

The post, which garnered more than 6,400 reactions and had been shared more than 5,700 times as of Monday, highlights the department’s concerted efforts to humanize police officers and build positive connections with the community using social media.

“We absolutely have a strategy with what we’re trying to do with our social media efforts,” said Chief Christopher Mannino, who assembled a social media team after being appointed to his post in 2017.

“It’s basically our ability to take the written word and visual images and try and really connect with the people we serve day in and day out.”

Mannino, who has taught classes on social media strategy for law enforcement officers across the country, said he believes there’s great value in getting the department’s message out there, whether it’s to share pertinent information with residents or to highlight the work of individual officers.

“When I began in law enforcement in 1997, we really struggled as a profession to communicate with the people we served,” he said. “I think social media really opened up an opportunity to not just talk about authenticity and transparency, but to actually implement it…

“I think if we’re effective at that, we’re really able to build strong relationships within our community and that helps us be better at what we do.”

The Park Forest police operates Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages with followings that dwarf those of most south suburban departments. With 14,680 followers, its Facebook page has more than two-thirds as many followers as the village has residents.

Officer Ryan Purdy, who has manned the department’s Facebook page for about the past year and is responsible for Friday’s viral post, said he enjoys shedding some light on the positive role officers play in the community.

“A lot of the stuff you see in the media, it’s typically when an officer does something bad,” he said.

Even television shows like “Cops” that present a more favorable image of law enforcement generally depict dramatic pursuits and sensational busts that, Purdy said, make up a “very small” part of the job.

“A lot of (police work) is really just going out and interacting with the public,” he said. “I felt like that was important to get out there.”

Purdy often posts multiple times a day on the department’s page with topical messages that run the gamut from humorous to informational to inspirational.

In the past week, the department’s page has posted facetiously about locating Chance the Snapper in a Park Forest yard; shared a card that a child made for wounded Officer Tim Jones; and publicized an alert about shots being fired during a domestic disturbance.

Purdy’s post Friday about the cancellation of crime because of extreme heat — a riff on similar posts that police departments across the country have made on social media in recent years — was actually motivated by what someone posted during the polar vortex, he said.

“I remember seeing last winter someone posted something about it being too cold for crime,” said Purdy, who re-appropriated the joke for the weekend’s heat wave.

“When we’re working, we’re wearing black pants and boots, two shirts and a bulletproof vest. It’s hot,” he said. “I just remember thinking, hey, it’d be nice if I didn’t have to get out of my car and everyone just behaved. I think everyone who works outside (in the heat) can kind of relate to that.”

Purdy said he crafted the message on his phone in about 15 minutes and posted it to Facebook with no idea it would blow up.

“Due to the extreme heat, the Park Forest Police Department is officially cancelling all criminal activity for today and tomorrow,” the post reads. “It is just too hot to be outside committing crimes. We’re asking all aspiring criminals, seasoned veterans, and those who find themselves committing crimes out of boredom, to please stay indoors. Today is a perfect day to Netflix and chill, literally, with the air conditioner set to 68 degrees. K? Thx!”

 

Due to the extreme heat, the Park Forest Police Department is officially cancelling all criminal activity for today and...

Posted by Park Forest Police Department on Friday, July 19, 2019

Within an hour, Purdy said, the post had received 300 to 400 likes.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of gaining some traction,’” he said.

Before long, the post had been picked up by local television stations and eventually reached the New York Daily News and even some international media.

Purdy said the reaction has been very positive, with Facebook users applauding his wit, tagging their friends and adding their own humorous retorts in the comments.

But did it result in a reduction in crime?

“We had two pretty slow days,” he said.

While Mannino said he appreciates the humorous posts and believes in letting his officers showcase their individual personalities on social media, he also sees value in using the platform to spark important community discussions.

He said he didn’t attribute Park Forest’s “relatively quiet” weekend to Purdy’s comical Facebook post about the heat, but said the reaction to the post underlined for him how critical it is that police stress community relations.

“When there’s a really positive reaction on social media, it just reinforces the fact that it’s the little relationships that really matter in what we do,” Mannino said.

©2019 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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