Want to report a crime and attach a photo with the evidence? Commend a deputy for good work? Volunteer? Find out who’s wanted or missing? See who’s in jail?
It’s all right there, accessible with the tap of a finger, on the new Washington County Sheriff’s Office free application for mobile devices.
“Everything is about the electronics these days,” said Sheriff Bill Hutton. “People want the immediacy, the knowledge, they want the connections. Some of it is serious, some is lighthearted, most of it is just information sharing.”
The new app is just the latest in a Sheriff’s Office initiative to meet and greet Washington County residents through social media and face-to-face conversations. A Facebook page has 3,800 fans, new community events such as “Coffee with a Cop” and “Safe Summer Night” have begun, and outreach such as an opening-to-closing presence at the county fair has engaged hundreds of people.
Last week, Hutton and his entire command staff made appearances at dozens of community Night to Unite events to talk with citizens they serve.
“How else do we get better?” Hutton asked.
Patrol Commander Brian Mueller developed the mobile app — “solely our own” — through a private company. A “social media team” being assembled in the Sheriff’s Office will keep information current and look for new ways of engaging residents, he said.
“We’re excited because everybody carries a mobile device,” Mueller said. “We’re really trying to embrace it. This is the age we live in. If our citizens are savvy in all the uses of social media, that means we need to be. It’s a changing dynamic and another way for us to connect with them.”
Currently, 80 percent of 911 calls in Washington County come via cellphone, he said, “not land line, not your home phone.”
Coincidentally, the rollout of the Sheriff’s Office application comes just a week after two communications consultants told the County Board that the county was lagging in social media and lacked sufficient “branding” — meaning a consistent image — that would help taxpayers better understand the role of their county government.
Mueller started working on the mobile application two years ago. He sees it as an important cornerstone to a fuller social media presence for the Sheriff’s Office.
“If we’re going to do it, do it thoroughly,” he said. “This is the epitome of community engagement. The next is Twitter.”
The new application includes a button with links to other agencies such as Tubman, which does domestic abuse counseling, and the Youth Service Bureau. Police departments in Cottage Grove, Forest Lake, Bayport, Woodbury, Oakdale, Newport and St. Paul Park appear there, as does a link to Minnesota state laws and the Washington County Attorney’s office.
Some of the links remain “under construction” as information is gathered.
The Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement in the county’s townships as well as cities that contract for service, such as Mahtomedi, Lake Elmo, Afton, Hugo and Scandia.
Hutton said he wants his deputies talking with residents, hearing their concerns, and being approachable at all times. He also looks for sincerity.
“I’m hiring deputies who say when they want to help people, it’s genuine,” he said.