Ohio Police Chief Takes Criminals to Task Online
If you’re up to no good in this pocket of northeast Ohio, especially in a witless way, you’re risking not only jail time or a fine but a swifter repercussion with a much larger audience: You’re in for a social media scolding from police Chief David Oliver and some of his small department’s 51,000 Facebook fans.
And Oliver does not mince words.
In postings interspersed with community messages and rants, the Brimfield Township chief takes to task criminals and other ne’er-do-wells - his preferred term is "mopes," appropriated from police TV shows and an old colleague who used it - for the stupid, the lazy and the outright unlawful. Even an ill-considered parking choice can spur a Facebook flogging.
"If you use a handicapped space and you jump out of the vehicle, all healthy-like, as if someone is dangling free cheeseburgers on a stick, expect people to stare at you and get angry," Oliver wrote last year. "You are milking the system and it aggravates those of us who play by the rules. Ignoring us does not make you invisible. We see you, loser."
His humor, sarcasm and blunt opinion fueled a tenfold increase in the Facebook page’s likes in the past year, bringing the total to more than four times the 10,300 residents the department serves. It’s among the most-liked local law enforcement pages in the country, trailing only New York, Boston and Philadelphia police, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Center for Social Media.
Not bad for a guy who initially hoped maybe 500 locals would pay attention when he noticed other businesses’ pages and decided to start his own three years ago.
Facebook posting, May 16, 2013: "I call criminals mopes. I do not comment on them being ugly, smelly or otherwise beauty impaired ... even though some are. I do not comment on their education, social status, color, sex, origin or who they marry. I care about crime and character. If you come to Brimfield and commit a crime we are all going to talk about it. The easiest way to not be called a criminal is to not be one. It is not calculus."
The chief loves justice, Westerns and dogs. John Wayne and Abraham Lincoln peer out from frames on the gray walls of Oliver’s office, where the 45-year-old chats with anyone who stops by.
His Facebook messages extend that open-door policy online for conversations about road closures, charity events, lost pets and whatever else crosses his mind. Some are serious, such as salutes to slain officers and updates during school threat investigations. Others are light-hearted, like the attempt to find an escaped swine’s owner with an unusual APB - an "All-Pig Bulletin" - or his promise to "ticket" child bicyclists with coupons for free ice cream if they wear helmets.
And, of course, there’s crime. One posting berates a man accused of physically assaulting a woman and two children. In another, Oliver suggests that hiding near an occupied police K-9 vehicle wasn’t a shoplifting suspect’s smartest move.
Resident Mark Mosley, a daily reader, said he likes such "humorous arrest stories" best.
"It’s one of those things, like you can’t fix stupid," Mosley said.
His officers and others say the online character of the chief, a big, beefy guy, matches real life.
"He is definitely a very large personality. It kind of goes with his size," local fire Chief Robert Keller said.
Oliver’s 15-person department handles more than 13,000 calls for service annually and deals largely with arrests for driving violations, thefts and drug crimes by out-of-towners. Arrests in those crime categories dropped last year but are trending upward again, and Oliver says it would take more time to determine whether the Facebook messages are having an impact.
Occasionally, his rants cover topics far outside his jurisdiction, among them the Boston Marathon bombings and the high-profile rape case from Steubenville in eastern Ohio. He rarely mentions names but doesn’t shy from addressing specific suspects or brands of criminals.
July 31, 2012: "Dear Father or Mother Meth Cooks,
"You have lost your mind. What in hell are you thinking when you make the decision to cook meth with your child in the house? You have violated the very basic principle of being a parent, which is the safety of your child. I am fed up with watching it and also with being concerned with the long-term effects of what you have exposed YOUR child to."
The word is out even among mopes, a few of whom have told Oliver they read his updates. During a March traffic stop with several drug-related arrests, one suspect overheard Oliver being called "Chief" and, after connecting the dots, requested not to be mentioned on the page, police said. Oliver didn’t oblige.
His postings, also republished to the department’s Twitter account, spur dozens or hundreds of comments from as far away as Australia or Germany. Some praise the department. Others say Oliver uses work time inappropriately for Facebook or criticize him for discussing suspects in a public forum. (His response: It’s public record.)
Oliver welcomes the discussion and deletes comments only if they use profanity or refer to police in highly offensive language.
"He totally connects with our community, except the people that he arrests," said Mike Kostensky, one of the trustees who picked Oliver as chief in 2004.
Departments like Brimfield that engage readers and reply tend to see more activity on their police pages compared with those that don’t, said Nancy Kolb, who runs the IACP Center for Social Media. The center tracks the popularity of law enforcement on Facebook and Twitter.
Oliver says his updates provide accountability and transparency about police work. He’s also a believer that people can change.
He says that he had a "very thin" line between good and bad when he was younger and that he might have become a mope if not for grandparents who let him watch only "The Waltons," ’’Gunsmoke" and "The Andy Griffith Show" on TV.
He said the latter was the biggest influence on his career because he admires the respectful, plain-spoken sheriff played by Griffith.
"I just always thought, you know, that’s a good way to handle things," Oliver says.
Jan. 28, 2013: "It is the opinion of this chief, located in a small corner of a great big world, that we need to, as a society, become a little more intolerant of people who commit crimes for a living. When we start yelling about it being unacceptable ... people will take notice and the practice will shift; either by putting people in jail, funding drug treatment or behavioral changes by the criminals."
Oliver, a father of four who starts many days hugging and high-fiving elementary school students, turned his popularity into a sort of local brand, pitching mugs and T-shirts with "no mopes" logos and his other catchphrases - such as "anywhere but here" or, in reference to a jail breakfast, "enjoy the oatmeal" - to raise money for school security improvements. Purchases and donations have brought in more than $14,000, enough to install panic buttons connecting the five local schools to police. Cameras and intercoms are next.
"How could you not love that guy?" said Tammy Ralston, the graphic designer at Young’s Screenprinting and Embroidery in Cuyahoga Falls, which came up with the "mopes" gear and receives orders from across the country.
Oliver’s supporters include retiree Dennis Kerr of Sherwood, Ark., who bought a T-shirt for his wife while visiting family in nearby Stow.
"The guy really has a load of common sense, and I appreciated him, so we started following him," Kerr said.
Kerr hopes to meet Oliver and said he considered planning his next Ohio visit to coincide with Brimfield’s parade. Oliver is turning the September event into a walk honoring military veterans and has invited all his Facebook fans.
Everyone, that is, except the mopes.
Follow Kantele Franko on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10