UPDATED: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 6:43pm
THIBODAUX, LA (NBC33) — Headlines about the most negative aspects of life seem to saturate daily discussions. However, a local law enforcement agency begins each day with a positive message, and it’s an effort they say is improving the department’s relationship with the community while gaining attention around the globe.
“We decided that we’re going to post positive message on our social media platforms each day,” David Melancon, Thibodaux Police Department, said. “It could be anything. It could just be our daily duties – what we do day in and day out.”
Last month, a “Good News of the Day” post went viral. It was a photo of a fellow law enforcement officer working at the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office that included a message of hope.
“He was diagnosed with leukemia. It was very aggressive and he stayed positive the entire time,” Melancon explained. “The most amazing thing was the day he got the news that the cancer was no longer in his body. He took a picture with a sign that said ‘I beat cancer’ and he sent me the picture personally. The next day I was so excited for him that I told the Chief about it and he said we should post it to our Facebook page with a prayer.”
In less than a month the photo has gained over 326,000 likes, more than 2,700 shares, and just under 6,000 comments.
“The comments, the likes, the views – they were coming in so fast our notifications couldn’t keep up,” Melancon said with a laugh. “We were amazed. It’s a beautiful thing to see so many people supporting this officer.”
The text accompanying the photo said “Praise God! Our brother found out yesterday that he has been healed of cancer. He went to the doctor, and no trace of leukemia could be found in his body! God is a HEALER!”
“When you’re talking about a government agency, you would think people do not want it to give praise to God due to separation of church and state,” Melancon admitted. “But the top three posts on our Facebook page have included a prayer and we get great feedback from the public.”
In this case, the post was well received due to its inspirational message.
“I went back and read all the comments and many of them were saying things like I have a brother, sister or daughter with cancer and I hope they can hold the same sign one day,” Melancon said. “We want people in the community to know that this officer, he overcame it, so if you have a family member going through the same thing, there’s hope. There’s always hope.”
Sharing the real struggles of those who work to serve the community is the greater goal of the department’s social media campaign.
“Everything we post to social media is because of a strategy,” Melancon noted. “Our ultimate goal is to have accountability and transparency with the community. We want the public to have an inside view of our department.
“Typically when you read about the police, it’s usually something negative. We want people to know that’s a small percentage. Although there are some officers who need disciplinary action, the truth is that the vast majority of our officers serve with duty and honor.”
The traditional model for a public communication department in a law enforcement agency is to restrict officers from talking to media outlets as a means of containing information. However, under Chief Scott Silverii, that model for the Thibodaux Police Department is becoming a thing of the past.
“I always preach that you have to manage your message. That message isn’t just the chief being a talking head for the department, it has to be a message shared by the entire organization,” Chief Silverii explained. “Our commitment is to make ourselves accessible and accountable to the community we serve.
“Reports show that only 40 percent of people report crimes,” he added. “If social media helps us close the gap of victimization going unreported, that will help achieve our ultimate goal.”
Showing the officers as real people living in the community is one way in which they hope to bridge that gap.
“Our next move is to create a blog site,” Chief Silverii said. “We’re going to have our officers contribute 500 words on why they do what they do. We want to hear about the job in their words.”