Coral Gables

When big news happened, why were Coral Gables police silent on social media?

Police block off an entrance to the Shops at Merrick Park following a shooting on April 8, 2017.
Police block off an entrance to the Shops at Merrick Park following a shooting on April 8, 2017.

When Abeku Wilson walked into the Equinox gym at the Shops at Merrick Park last month and fatally shot two co-workers and then turned the gun on himself, the media and police presence around the shopping center loomed large and media attention lasted for days.

But if anyone searched for updates on the shooting, the lockdown in and around the shops or for any additional details, they didn’t find them on the Coral Gables Police Department’s Twitter or Facebook pages or the city’s main Facebook page.

That’s due in part to a change from last September requiring that all social media postings from city departments, including the police, have to go through the city’s communications department.

“I’m receiving multiple requests to give access to social media to various departments, so I have been asked to come up with a plan on how all postings (including police) need to go through my office,” city spokeswoman Maria Higgins-Fallon wrote in an email last September.

Following that email, the most recent message from the Gables police Twitter account is a retweet of a Davie police department tweet from last October. And prior to that the department had only about 14 tweets.

“Those are pretty much the rules we abide by, and we get it cleared by them,” Police Chief Ed Hudak said.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade’s police department gave at least two Twitter updates from the Merrick Park scene. And many police departments, ranging from larger agencies like Miami and Miami Beach to smaller departments like Doral, tweet regular and breaking news updates through Twitter and Facebook.

Higgins-Fallon says the city is focusing on social media updates almost exclusively through Facebook and YouTube. Years ago, the city reserved its own Twitter account, but that’s still never been used.

The police department can ask for any update to be posted on the city’s main Facebook page through the communications department, Higgins-Fallon said, and pointed to a recent police recruitment video as an example of getting the police department’s message out.

“They have to channel it through this office,” Higgins-Fallon said. “Our goal is to use one page for one message.”

In some other notable incidents — less deadly than the Merrick Park shooting but impacting traffic — the department did not share any social media updates. When a Gables police officer fired at the driver of a stolen car in February, near the University of Miami, the updates came from the school’s police department.

And in March when an early morning crash shut down a portion of U.S. 1, the department didn’t send any social media updates about when lanes on the busy road would be reopened.

City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark said that for now Coral Gables plans to utilize smartphone push alert services like the one the City Commission approved with In-telligent LLC in February. That service sends emergency alerts to users that opt in to receive them within a specific geographic area.

Higgins-Fallon said the city hopes to add a full-time social media coordinator but until then, she doesn’t anticipate the police department’s Twitter sending any updates.

“Right now we’re leaving it to this office to be the main point of contact for social media,” Higgins-Fallon said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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