by Sarah Thomack/St. Joseph Post staff
The St. Joseph Police Department needed some help with social media so they went to the experts: eighth graders at Robidoux Middle School.
The United Way in St. Joseph partnered with the police department for their Speakers’ Bureau program. United Way Director of Community Investment Jodi Bloemker says the program works to connect people from different career fields to the classroom so students can learn about opportunities in the community and what they can do after high school.
“That looks like lots of different things,” Bloemker says. “We have career panels that go out, we help with career days, we have classroom speakers sharing about their careers and what it takes to do that job.”
Bloemker says, in 2018, they started a program as part of Speakers’ Bureau which brings in a community partner that has a project or an issue for students to research.
“Over the course of six weeks students do research, they learn and then they make a proposal of how they would address the issue,” Bloemker says. “So it’s getting the kids to work hands-on with a real-world problem, but it’s also great career exposure as well.”
St. Joseph Police Sgt. Roy Hoskins says the last time they worked with students, they proposed ideas for how to prevent car theft. During the 2019 program, Hoskins presented a new project to the Robidoux students: how to enhance the social media presence of the St. Joseph Police Department. Hoskins says social media is important in the police department, but they have a love/hate relationship with it, as it can be helpful but also hurtful to investigations.
“We get so much good information from it, we have to fight through some of the drama a bit, but we do get some really good stuff from there. People are willing to come forward and identify missing persons, suspects in crimes, things like that. It gives our detectives something to go on, frequently,” Hoskins says. “We welcome all responses and comments, good or bad, and we’ll work through those and use what we can. It’s an interesting forum to kind of see what people think.”
Bloemker says, through the program, the students researched what the SJPD currently does with social media, how other law enforcement agencies use social media, and then they developed ideas for a more community-engaging social media plan for St. Joseph police. The Robidoux eighth grade students made a presentation to Bloemker, Sgt. Hoskins and Emily Wearing with the Communications Division with the City.
Bloemker says the students came up with some ideas for the department to use that could appeal to a younger demographic, including using the social media apps Instagram and TikTok more and utilizing hashtags.
Bloemker says they have had good feedback from both the students and the community partners they’ve worked with for this program which has included, so far, the police department and St. Joseph Animal Control and Rescue.
“I think whenever you can bring in a local organization, it raises awareness for the students about, ‘Oh, this is what they really do,’” Bloemker says. “But when you can present to them something that, this is what we’re dealing with, real-world, this isn’t a made up thing, this isn’t from a textbook or from another community, this is something that our community is dealing with, I think the students take more ownership. I think they might feel more value in working on the problem because they know it’s impacting their local community.”