On Google+, police present a portrait of crime

Mugshots on the photo-friendly Google+ create an inadvertent portrait gallery while showing what the police in San Jacinto, Calif., are up to.

Gary Brown, booked by San Jacinto, Calif., police for allegedly driving his Harley-Davidson under the influence of alcohol.
Gary Brown, booked by San Jacinto, Calif., police for allegedly driving his Harley-Davidson under the influence of alcohol. San Jacinto Police Department

Anybody who's worked at a local newspaper (including me) can tell you that the routine police reports are some of the best-read news items. It's a goldmine for gossip.

But in the Internet era, nobody has to rely on the news media in the same way. If you're a politician on the campaign trail or a tech company touting your wares, it's easy to take your message directly to the people with e-mail newsletters, Web sites, text messages, and Twitter feeds.

The San Jacinto Police Department, in southern California's Riverside County, has added a Google+ account to its repertoire.

The reports, written in classic cop-shop style peppered with acronyms such as PC (penal code) and BAC (blood-alcohol content), can be dry going: "At an unknown time between November 16th and November 17th unknown suspect(s) removed approximately 3,000 feet of number 1 copper wire from an electrical box located in the area of Lake Park and Ramona Expressway. The wire provided power to the street lights on the bridge off Lake Park Drive."

But what makes the page intriguing to me isn't the text. It's the mugshots.

Photographers love Google+ for showing photos large on a relatively uncluttered background. Not to belittle either the departments' efforts or the suffering of those who've been arrested or charged, but the photos are a terrific portrait gallery.

Compare it to San Jacinto Police Department's Facebook page. The tiny thumbnails are of the same people, but unless you click on them, they're small. The Google+ page draws you in and makes you want to hear the story of what happened.

And of course that's the bottom line. Police departments across the country constantly strive to justify their funding, and showing the public what they do is an important part of that effort.

Of course, you still have to attract the attention if you want to be effective in talking to the public. It's not clear how engaged people are, but so far, Google+ seems to be working a bit better for the SJPD, drawing 499 followers since its November 8 launch compared to 89 for the Facebook page.

The San Jacinto, Calif., Police Department posts news of arrests on its Google+ page. Shown here is Ernesto Rojas-Vivas, along with the police account of his arrest.
The San Jacinto, Calif., Police Department posts news of arrests on its Google+ page. Shown here is Ernesto Rojas-Vivas. San Jacinto Police Department
 

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