PLI Podcast: Chief Brandon Perkins

Posted on 27 April 2011 by

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Chief Brandon Perkins of the Tyrone, GA police department first came to our attention when he told Nixl – a free text and email alert service – to go jump in a lake, after Nixle changed its business model and started charging $3000 a year.

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Perkins said that Tyrone had been the 16th agency in the country, and the first in Georgia, to go with Nixle, after it promised that the service would be free to law enforcement forever.

After he got the bad news from the company, he did some research and found that he could dump them, use a free plugin from WordPress.com and get a great new city website while he was at it.

He had written an article about his experience over at Cops 2.0.com, and we called him up and asked him to join us on the podcast.

We found a man who’d taught himself web design in the late 1990s, and after serving in a range of positions including public information officer, decided that he would design the site by himself and write most of its posts.

We asked first about how he chose his writing style, which is very immediate and journalistic in style. Here’s a sample, from mid-March:

A vigilant citizen of the Magnolia Farms subdivision called 911 at approximately 11:30 pm on March 10, 2011 to report a suspicious vehicle in the area. Officers responded to the area immediately and located the vehicle, which was occupied by a white male, Reese Neely of Peachtree City. The investigation led to the discovery of Heroin and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle for which he was arrested.

Chief Perkins says he spends about an hour a week writing and putting the site together. He also enjoys the fact that he’s saving a lot of money, using the inexpensive version of WordPress (which we also recommended to agencies seeking to either get a web presence or create something like a frequent flier list – see our Intel On The Cheap article from February – plus finding other software that is free or low cost, like AVG anti-virus, which he places on all his mobile records boxes.

Spotcrime and mylocalcrime.com – online interactive crime mapping systems. You save your crime information in a CSV file, then upload it, and the site will display icons showing the types of crime within a certain radius of their house. It also provides email alerts to citizens who register their address, when a crime occurs within a certain radius.

Dave mentioned TLO, which is a person-search engine similar to CLEAR, LexisNexis and similar products, which is free to law enforcement. Chief Perkins mentions hostgator.com, which hosts his domain name, offering a control panel that will allow you to automatically forward domain names to your new free WordPress blog (WordPress does charge extra to park your domain name).

I mentioned a couple of resources, including cops2point0.com, which features articles on how agencies can use social media and integrate it into their agencies; and connectedcops.net, which has how-to articles on building sites, and using Social media (and which sponsors the SMILE Conference, at which I will be speaking in May).

I have personally used webmonkey.com, run by Wired magazine, which has alot of tutorials from simple, just getting started HTML tips, all the way up to setting up relational databases – all free.

Dave mentioned that Twitter and Facebook are attracting lots of agencies from around the country, and Chief Perkins talked about his accounts on those social media sites. He said they’re a great way to broaden your horizons and ensure you’re reaching out to all generations as an agency, and he reminds us that most people now have email, so we shouldn’t forget to include email outreach in the bag of tricks.

But the Chief really recommends that text messaging be explored, as he finds in the most effective way to get important community news out to his citizens.

On Twitter, Chief Perkins says the city has about 850 followers, but says that it’s mainly a one-way announcement system – the PD to the followers. The city has 200 friends on Facebook, and that gets some more interaction. On their website and text messages they have about 200 people signed up – on Nixl they had 700 (about 10% of their population) signed up to receive alerts.

I asked whether the city uses the contact information in any other ways – for example, reaching out when an unpaid traffic ticket is getting ready to go to warrant status, or to inform people of jury or other civic duties, and he said that they absolutely do not. The city promised that they would never use the information for anything other than emergency contact first and foremost because it understands that some people still have to pay for text messages. I was glad I asked, because it turns out that this was a major concern of the people before the service began.

Chief Perkins said that they don’t even look at the emails to determine who the subscriber is, and if their name isn’t in the email address, it’s pretty much anonymous. The chief mentioned that early on, some people were apprehensive about giving their information to the government, but after a while, when friends would show them the kinds of messages that were being sent, gradually people have learned to trust the systems.

Dave asked about tips or pitfalls to watch out for, and Chief Perkins said that mainly the technical resources are the biggest problem. He’s lucky that he had a background in technology, but he went and bought a bunch of books on web design, HTML, PHP and CSS, but points out that you don’t even have to know how to code anymore – you can be up in minutes on sites like WordPress or Tumblr.

Early on, they went to the local cable providers and asked them to place static slides on certain channels and community service news broadcasts, advertising the free service – this turned out to be a good way to recruit subscribers and let people know about the service. Now he uses those, plus signatures in his email and on mailing lists – and telling his officers to let people know about the services on their patrol rounds, to help spread the word.