Petty criminals locked into stocks while passersby mock them—a scene from the past? In Kent, Ohio, Police Chief David Oliver is bringing back the practice, using Facebook. If someone so much as shoplifts in Brimfield Township, Oliver’s 57,000 friends will hear about it. He calls ne’er-do-wells “mopes,” a nickname inspired from police TV shows and a colleague who used the term.
A May 16, 2013, post on Facebook: “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.”
Oliver discusses cases generally, but never uses the suspects’ names, according to a 2012 story by the local ABC-affiliated TV station in Cincinnati. Oliver told the station he had posted 15-20 Facebook messages directed toward suspects, and began the latest message with “Dear Mother.”
His humor and blunt opinion fueled a tenfold increase in the Facebook page’s likes in the past year, bringing the total to five 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 hoped 500 locals would pay attention when he started his page three years ago.
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. He talks about road closures, charity events, lost pets, and whatever else crosses his mind. Some messages 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. 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, while others criticize him for discussing suspects in a public forum. His response: It’s public record.
Oliver, a father of four who starts many days hugging and high-fiving elementary school students, said his updates provide accountability and transparency about police work. He’s also a believer that people can change.
“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,” he wrote in a Jan. 28 post. “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.”
When he was younger, Oliver said he walked a “very thin” line between good and bad and might have become a mope if not for grandparents who let him watch only The Waltons, Gunsmoke, and The Andy Griffith Show on TV. Now, he considers the respectful, plain-spoken sheriff played by Griffith as a role-model.
Oliver has channeled his popularity to raise money for school security improvements. Mugs and T-shirts feature his catchphrases: “No mopes,” “Anywhere but here,” or in reference to a jail breakfast, “Enjoy the oatmeal.” Purchases and donations raked in more than $14,000, enough to install panic buttons connecting the five local schools to police. Cameras and intercoms come next.