As municipal budgets are cut, everyone is looking for ways to save where they can.
Some police departments have turned to social media as a low cost method of getting information out to the public.
"One of my goals since I've become the chief here is to enhance our ability to communicate with the community," said Daniel Meister, Columbus Police Chief. "That can mean one-way or two-way communication. I sometimes seek input from the community as to how we can do things better. Sometimes I just want to put information out there for people to be aware of."
I thought Facebook had the capabilities that I was looking for to get information out to the community," Meister said. "I thought it was a good idea, and of course the cost was right."
He said he sees the Facebook page as a way to supplement the traditional mailings and the police department website.
He is the only administrator of the Columbus PD Facebook page, but he said it doesn't take much time for him to update.
"I'm learning as we go along and I've been getting positive feedback," Meister said. "I want to make sure that the content that's going out there is quality content. I try to log on at least three times a day, just to see what's going on. When I come in in the morning, I like to check it. I like to check it before I go home. Then at home, sometime in the evening, I will check it, too, just to see if there's any feedback."
Meister said the department also uses Nixle, a service that sends out automatic text and/or email updates to subscribers in the area when something happens. However, the service is starting to charge for yearly subscriptions, making him look at whether the full package of alerts they have currently is feasible.
"We could still get, I think, just texting for free," Meister said. "But if we wanted to do both, we were looking at about $1,500 for a one-year subscription. I just didn't have that money budgeted for. Right now I'm sticking with the very basic free package. We haven't had a need to use it too much."
Beaver Dam Police Department is also seeing the value of social media. According to Detective Ryan Klavekoske, the department should have an official Facebook page by the end of July.
"We're going to initially try to set up a Facebook page," Klavekoske said. "Right now we're in a process where we're going through a set of three or four different trainings. These are online trainings by the International Association for Chiefs of Police. They talk about how to set up these types of social medias, but also, how to best utilize them."
He said new police Chief Ronald Smith really helped get the ball rolling for the police department using social media to interact with the community.
"It's another avenue for us to get information out in a timely manner to a large group of people," Klavekoske said. "The ability to quickly and effectively get information out to them and pass on the message that we're trying to relay really is an advantage to us. One of the challenges is how to make it time effective. We don't have the resources necessary to continuously be monitoring and updating Facebook. That is not only giving information to the public, but trying to respond to some of the interactions we're seeing on a page like that."
One of the major points that Klavekoske and Meister agree on is the Facebook page is not the place to report crimes or complaints about officers.
Meister said he would be fine with constructive criticism for the entire department on the Facebook page, but he is limited to what he can do about complaints posted via social media.
"If you have a complaint, it's probably best served by coming in," Meister said. "We go through the formal complaint process. I do want to know about issues. I don't want Facebook to get muddied down with that."
Mayville Police Department has chosen to go with another branch, focusing more on an official Twitter feed.
"I just found, when Twitter came out, that it would be a great opportunity just to give [people] quick information about what's going on," said Mayville interim Chief of Police Chris McNeill. "Then they can be directed back to the website for more information. It seems to be working out very well."
He said he does not post everything on the Twitter feed. He tries to only put updates on the Twitter feed when he feels something is interesting to the general public.
"I don't actually keep up on Twitter as much as I should," McNeill said. "It's only because of the fact that it's time consuming. We do get some feedback. We get a lot of direction back to the police department website. It's just the ones that I think are a human interest story, like that kid that was stuck in the river. It was nothing life-threatening. It was just something I thought, ‘It would be nice to put that out there and show that we don't always handle the bad calls. We also handle other calls like that.'"
He said in the future, he and the police department would consider expanding to other forms of social media, but they would want to be certain they understood what they were doing before they began.
"It just helps get the word out to the community about what we do," McNeill said. "I know there's a lot of law enforcement agencies that use YouTube channels now. I don't think we do enough of that. But I don't want to just restrict it to dash-cam videos. It's definitely something I would like to see in the future, whenever we got to that point. We're interested in doing a Facebook page. I just want to make sure that it's done correctly and professionally."
He said some people have suggested that police departments are using social media as a marketing tool. He said it is a marketing tool, but is also an information source for the community.
"It shows them that we're not keeping anything hidden," McNeill said. "This is what we're doing and this is how we do it and why we do it. We're here to help."
Mayville PD also uses Facebook to help organize and advertise their youth dances.
To follow Columbus PD on Facebook, search for "Columbus Wisconsin Police Department." Mayville can be found on Twitter by searching for @mayvillepolice or on Facebook by searching for "Mayville Police Youth Dances."
"Facebook doesn't cost us anything," Meister said. "It's very flexible and I can log on anywhere. I don't have to be here at work to manage the page."