KENSINGTON, P.E.I. – A police force in a tiny Prince Edward Island community is building an international social media audience, leveraging irreverent humour and pop-culture references to draw an audience for serious messages.
Const. Robb Hartlen of the Kensington Police Force says humour helps get people listening on drinking and driving, winter safety, drugs and whatever else.
“Why not get away from just hammering down the message, and soften it up with a little bit of humour?” he said.
More than a quarter of a million people have viewed a picture posted last Friday, or 4-20, known by many as Weed Day.
It shows a simple trap consisting of a box propped-up by a stick, with snack foods and video games as the bait. The caption: “Snowy and blustery out, but undercover #420 operations are all ready to roll out. Now we just sit and wait…”
Hartlen said they’re not trying to be sensational with such posts, but instead trying to open a dialogue.
“It was our tongue-in-cheek look at the stereotypes of, if you smoke weed you get the munchies and want to sit down and play video games,” Hartlen said.
Sometimes the approach works, he said, and sometimes it doesn’t.
In late 2016 the force had to apologize after posting that drivers arrested for drinking and driving would be forced to listen to the Alberta rock band Nickelback.
That post had more than 23-million views before it was removed.
“Some people say that was a bad post, but I still look at it as a very positive post because it gave us a wider audience to follow up with an anti-drinking and driving message, which is what that message was in the first place,” he said.
Hartlen said the Facebook page has given them the platform to talk about important messages and reach people well beyond the town’s borders.
He said if they have a funny message one day, then they can do something more serious the next day.
Earlier this year, the force posted a video describing the dangers of eating laundry detergent pods.
The force did a Facebook Live post with a veterinarian inside an enclosed car on a hot day to talk about what was happening. They also did one on the dangers of the drug fentanyl, which has gotten about two-million views.
Hartlen said while his initial efforts at humour raised some eyebrows with his bosses, they see the benefits of getting people to visit the website on a regular basis.
“When you get the comical posts, people will keep following. Then you have the opportunity to do the serious posts,” he said.