Hoping to tap into the forces driving social networking, the Wichita Police Department has created its own YouTube channel.
Police officials plan to use it for recruitment, programming and seeking public assistance in criminal investigations by displaying surveillance footage from crimes they're trying to solve.
Among the videos available on the channel now, for example, is footage from a Dec. 1 burglary in which someone backed a white sedan through the front of a convenience store.
"We're not the first" in the country to set up a YouTube channel, Lt. Troy Livingston said. "But... in Kansas, in many ways, we're leading the pack."
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Livingston spearheaded the development of the YouTube channel as part of a social media network that includes a Facebook page and Twitter account, all revolving around the Citizen Alert Network — which launched last March.
"The reason we picked those is because they have the most subscribers," Livingston said of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
According to a video Livingston references frequently in discussing the impact of social media, if Facebook were a country, it would have the fourth-largest population in the world — behind only China, India and the United States.
The same video, Livingston said, reports that it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users. Television needed 13 years, and the Internet four years.
Facebook added 100 million users — in nine months.
"There is a certain number of people that don't watch TV like they used to," Livingston said. "Younger generations are watching less and less TV and spending more and more time on the Web."
In the eight hours after he first posted the Dec. 1 burglary video on the YouTube channel, Livingston said, it was viewed 225 times.
"Those 225 may not have seen it on TV," he said.
But they did see it on YouTube, which has become the second-largest search engine in the world.
Livingston and police spokesman Gordon Bassham said the YouTube channel is not an attempt to go around traditional media — it's simply an attempt to reach a demographic that otherwise might be missed.
"We will never try to bypass the media," Livingston said. "That's not what this is about."
Along with surveillance footage of crimes, Bassham and Livingston said, the channel will feature segments called "Behind the Badge" that can focus on emerging issues — such as home safety in the wake of an increase in burglaries in a particular neighborhood.
Livingston also plans to link to stories by The Eagle and local television stations.
The department's Facebook page has nearly 1,000 fans despite being operational only since late November, he said.
The police Twitter account has more than 1,100 followers and has been active for only about eight months.
"Facebook's more of a recruitment thing," Livingston said. "We will put some pictures and videos on it," such as footage from National Night Out and other activities.
The different sites are linked, he said, so when an alert goes out it shows up on the department's Twitter account as well.
One day soon, he said, he hopes to add podcasts to the mix.
"We're kind of excited about how we're setting this up," he said.