The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office will be training their staff on media messaging and social media presence.
At their Oct. 9 meeting, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a contract with Cole Pro Media to assist the Sheriff’s Office with social media, press releases, emergency alerts, traffic reminders and amber alerts. Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz was the lone opposing vote.
Costs of the contract are not to exceed $30,000, with a start date of July 1, 2018 and an end date of June 30, 2019. Cole Pro Media’s services were already in use in July and August on a month-to-month basis, according to the meeting agenda packet.
According to Captain Eric Taylor, costs will be divided between the operations, jail and grant funds, and it has already been budgeted.
“Having a professional coach us through this process gives us a much greater chance of success instead of using our own untrained in-house staff,” Taylor said.
Taylor listed several sheriff’s departments that have hired Cole Pro Media for assistance, including those in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Mateo counties.
The company will help the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office maintain transparency while upholding legal privacy protections to residents, Taylor said.
“The goal is to get our office to become experts ourselves,” Taylor said. “Also, all messaging to the community will come from a Sheriff’s Office staff member both in print and on camera so we’re not going to have somebody standing and doing it for us. We’ll be doing ourselves. We’ll be learning along the way.”
De La Cruz said he saw the benefits of the training, but was worried that if the program is successful, the department would need a full-time position that takes care of communication. The supervisor said he would rather have “boots on the field than hire non-boots individuals.”
“We want to make sure our community is protected and the way we do that is more officers on the streets,” De La Cruz said. “That’s why I question you because I can see where it’s going.
De La Cruz said it was a short-term situation and that if it becomes successful, the Sheriff’s Office will be asking to hire an IT or social media employee full-time with benefits at the next budget hearing.
The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office should partner with the City of Hollister to take advantage of their resources and not have to create a full-time position, De La Cruz suggested.
Taylor responded that the Sheriff’s Office does not want to rely on the city to relay messages to the community and that if the training is done properly, all staff would be creating content so there would be no need to create a full-time position to manage communications.
Supervisor Robert Rivas said it was a step in the right direction and cited San Benito High School as an example, as they have a teacher who is contracted to manage the social media accounts and all the messaging that is relayed from the school district to the community.
“More and more people are getting their news from social media outlets,” Rivas said.
He cited a Pew Research Center study that said 62 percent of Americans received their news from social media in 2016 and it increased to 67 percent in 2017.
Board Chairman Anthony Botelho said there was a tremendous value to the program and said there is a real art to handling media.
“Not only will we benefit from that, but also the day-to-day interpersonal communications will benefit as well,” Botelho said. “The training is something that we need, not only in your department, but we’ve talked about it throughout the whole county.”