By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer
The University of New Hampshire’s Executive Director of Safety and Chief of Police Paul Dean turned to the Twittersphere earlier this week in order to answer the community’s questions, a move that he says he found success with.
“I think what people got out of it is that they know that their police department cares,” Dean said.
“I want [students] to see that enforcement is a very small part of what we do, but that’s what gets the most attention.”
From 1-3 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30, Dean answered questions posed to him from members of the community with #askchiefdean.
The second talk of this type he’s done in the last year, Dean said the number of people who participated rose from eight when he did it last fall to 25 users this time around.
“They were coming in pretty fast for a time there,” Dean said, mimicking the fast typing on his table that he had to do in order to keep up with answering questions.
The questions ranged from ones of safety to the “coolest one” he got. Someone asked how long UNH police has been in existence, to which he answered had been around since 1928.
“I thought that was a cool factoid for people,” Dean said.
Other facts helped to clarify policies on campus, a challenge given the 140-character limit. For example, when UNH Health Services asked Dean whether or not mace is considered a weapon when carried on campus, it was difficult to explain the complex matter that he says is currently being reviewed.
“Those kind of things are considered weapons. I’m not so sure that’s the right classification for that,” he said.
“We’re reviewing that, trying to get an opinion on that. I’m on both sides of the fence about it. … I know that people are concerned about their safety, and I want them to have tools available to them in the general public, but I’m always cognizant of the environment we have.”
The most common theme, though, appeared to be about safety; a topic he said is of high importance to him.
“Someone asked me three of the most important things a person can do and the third one I said was, ‘Take your own safety personally,’” he said. “If you see something, say something.”
With the variety, Dean said that there were no receptive questions and was pleased with the round of questions he got this time around; though he did have some concerns going into the event.
“Every time I do these things, I get nervous about somebody trying to use this to grandstand with some type of grievance,” he said. “I’m glad that people were asking questions that inform the public.”
The purpose of these Twitter talks are modeled after the online town meetings that took place during the 2012 presidential elections and are also similar to many of the other outreach programs that the department holds: to engage the students in the community and communicate information to people.
“Even if you didn’t want to ask me a question, if you went to the hashtag to look at things and read down through them, I think you have a better appreciation for the agency and what we do,” he said.
“That may get you to go to our webpage, that may get you to go follow us on Facebook, it may get you to follow us on Twitter, or it may get you to give me a call or come visit me.”
It’s this open dialogue that Dean believes can be beneficial for his department and the community that it serves.
“We’re just trying to get the message out there and get students engaged,” he said.
“I know they’re busy, but I really want to get students to … ask questions, to feel like they can ask questions. It doesn’t have to specifically be when we hold events like that, but I want them to know that they can ask questions.”
With only positive reviews from members of the department and the university, Dean said he plans on holding another online discussion in the spring, though he might change the time in order hopefully get more student voices in the mix.
“As a community, as consumers of this place, you have — and should have — access to your police chief,” he said. “This is a great way to throw out things and let people have access in a way that they’re use[d] to having access.”