On Facebook, a crime report can read a lot differently than it would on a police blotter or in a news story. Take this example from the Brimfield, Ohio, Police Department:
"Two females arrested. ... They walked into the store thin and walked out much 'thicker.' We are thinking it was the additional shirts and 'booty' shorts they put on under their own clothing..." Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver wrote on April 29. "Their 'booties' and the rest of them were taken to the bed and breakfast ... where the shorts are longer ... and so are the days."
What started as a way to keep the residents of this small northeastern Ohio town engaged and informed has turned into a social media sounding board for people all over the world. The Brimfield Police Department Facebook page has garnered more than 51,000 likes and has regular visitors from all 50 states and 29 countries since it went up in May 2010, Oliver told ABC News.
Its social media reach trails only that of the Boston, Philadelphia and New York police departments, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Center for Social Media.
"If your job is to protect and serve the public, we have a duty to be where the public is and engage them wherever we can," said Oliver.
On the Brimfield Facebook page, narrative accounts of police patrols and open letters to criminals mesh with weather reports, local community event notices, birthday wishes to celebrities, quotes of the day and quips from the chief himself.
Oliver's even gone so far as to create his own buzz words to toss out at readers, such as "mope," a term culled from the 1970s cop show "Kojak," which he uses to describe criminals.
And the page is famous even among the "mopes" police apprehend, Oliver said.
But the page is not without its detractors, who sometimes call its language "unprofessional." Oliver responds in kind:
"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," Oliver wrote on May 16.
"We kind of call it what it is," he said. "I think that while it's popular with some people, I certainly have detractors. I can take criticism as long as someone isn't swearing at me."
His readers, who range in age from high school students to adults in their 80s, can get quite passionate and vocal about what matters to them most.
"When I post something about marijuana, say we recovered marijuana from a car, marijuana advocates will come on the page and speak about it," he said. "There's a lot of back and forth. It stays civil. People who don't like marijuana make their point, and then we move on. You get a pretty clear understanding of where everyone stands."
Despite the free-wheeling humor, there are firm ground rules as to what can be posted and what kind of comments can stay up. Oliver said he makes sure to delete profanity-laced and threatening content.
While there is no crime-related topic that is off limits, Oliver takes care to keep personal details, such as names and mug shots, off the page.
"Imagine a 12-year-old having her friend text her to look at Brimfield's page and say, 'Isn't that your dad?' I can't do that to a child," he said.
Oliver, who runs the police page with the help of his captain and two sergeants, who post and moderate it, said it still adds three hours to his day. But he said he is happy to do it so long as it provides a conduit for community interaction.
Oliver said he is surprised that the discussion is all going down on a police-run Facebook page but has found ways to channel the popularity for good causes.
The Brimfield squad teamed up with a printing company from a neighboring town to sell police department related merchandise with sayings take directly from the page. All proceeds from the sales went to the purchase and installation of one-push panic buttons in all five schools in the town, Oliver said.
When he started the Facebook page for town news, the police chief said he would have considered 500 likes a victory. But since its staggering success, he hopes the page contributes to a larger conversation about accountability.
"I don't like the buzz word 'transparency,' but I want everybody to know what goes on in our community," said Oliver.