NAUGATUCK — It all started with the almighty D-word. Doughnut, that is.
Naugatuck Police Lt. Bryan Cammarata quipped on the department’s Facebook page several times over the past two weeks about how much police officers love doughnuts.
Though NPD brass enjoy and endorse the lighthearted social media posts, some of them told him to cool it with the doughnut talk. So what did Cammarata do? He made a mockery of it on Facebook.
“The powers that be have suggested that we stop referring to ‘donuts’ so much in our posts,” he wrote. “I know, I know — I can’t believe it either. But there is a chain of command here and an order is an order. So until further notice, from this point forward, we will refer to them simply as ‘the D word.’”
While the jury is still out on whether Chief Christopher Edson enjoyed the joke, it certainly got a laugh from quite a few citizens. Over the past two weeks, the department has taken a lighthearted approach to many of its conversations with residents on Facebook.
In that time, the department has seen a 38 percent jump in followers on the social media site — from 1,300 two weeks ago to 1,809 as of Sept. 19.
Naugatuck is the latest in a growing number of police departments nationwide to take a fun-filled approach to social media in an attempt to gain a larger audience. The goal is not only to have fun, but to remind the public that police officers are human, too.
“If people see that we are people who like to have fun, too, then maybe they will feel a little more comfortable with us, which can help us and the community in numerous ways,” Cammarata said.
Another officer in the department brought the idea to Cammarata’s attention after reading about the success the Bangor, Maine, police department is having with its new approach to social media. The city is roughly the same size as Naugatuck, with 33,000 people.
About six months ago, Bangor Sgt. Tim Cotton, a former radio broadcaster and 17-year veteran with the department, was given the green light by his chief to have fun on the department’s Facebook page.
He started taking a lighthearted but informative approach, including posts about how to stay safe on the Fourth of July weekend with a photo of a police officer giving a funny look with a thumbs up. In the photo, as always, is the department’s mascot, a stuffed duck dubbed “Duck of Justice.”
The duck has gained quite a following in Bangor, and people click on Facebook to see what it’s doing, while interacting with Cotton and other officers, sometimes with jokes, other times with crime tips. The department has more than 28,000 followers on Facebook.
The department’s Facebook page was recently featured in an article in the New York Daily News, which mentioned another department in Brimfield Township, Ohio, which has 10,000 residents. The department had more than 163,000 followers on its Facebook page as of Sept. 19. By comparison, that’s nearly as many as the official UConn Huskies fan page, which boasted almost 179,000 followers on Sept. 19.
Cammarata wanted to know the secret to their success, so he contacted Cotton at the Bangor Police Department. Cotton told him that people want to follow something that is readable and fun, so that’s the tack that Cammarata has taken.
“When we have something serious, like a major crime or a missing person, we will certainly be serious,” Cammarata said. “But I think we will continue to build an audience of citizens by showing our humorous side and pointing out good things in the community.”
Naugatuck Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger said the new social media approach is an extension of community policing.
“Robert Peel (former prime minister of Great Britain in the mid-1800s) said a long time ago that the police are the public and the public are the police,” Bernegger said. “We are human like the citizens we serve who live, work and play in the community. This helps to remind people of that.”
And it’s not just the humans getting in on the fun. It’s the ducks, as well.
While Bangor has its popular stuffed duck, Naugatuck has a rubber duck that makes its way onto the Facebook site frequently — Cotton said the Bangor PD fully endorses the Naugatuck rubber duck, a homage to Naugatuck’s once thriving rubber industry, according to Cammarata.
So now the newest member of the Naugatuck police force, if only on social media, is “Bangor the Nauga-Duck of Justice,” the Naugatuck Police duck. Cammarata urges people to look for him on Facebook and not to forget to “like” his page at www.facebook.com/naugatuckpolice.