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Feisty, folksy Facebook page makes Ohio cop ‘Internet sensation’

Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver uses the reach of his department's increasingly popular Facebook page to interact with residents and take to task criminals and other ne'er-do-wells in messages that mix humor and blunt opinion.
(Tony Dejak / Associated Press)

Sara Broncho-Morning has never been to Brimfield, a town of about 10,300 in northeast Ohio.

But the Redlands resident -- and tens of thousands of others around the country and the world -- regularly reads the Facebook page for the town’s police department. It’s where she finds observations like this:

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“Attention Residents....This is an APB. We repeat...an APB. It’s an All Pig Bulletin. If you have a black pot-belly pig...make sure you still have it. Some nice residents recovered one at Old Forge and Congress Lake last night. If it belongs to you, message us. We are hearing it was quite the ‘round up’ catching this little piggie last night. There is no confirmation the little piggie was on his way to the market or had roast beef.”

Or this:

“If you use a handicapped space and you jump out of the vehicle, all healthy-like, as if someone is dangling free cheeseburgers on a stick, expect people to stare at you and get angry. You are milking the system and it aggravates those of us who play by the rules. Ignoring us does not make you invisible. We see you, loser.”

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Opinionated, folksy and sometimes even a tad angry, the Brimfield Police Department’s Facebook page is more blog than blotter, melding arrest updates and crime statistics with sarcasm, insights, rants, inspirational quotes, community notices, birthday shout-outs and songs to get stuck in your head.

It is a place where criminals are “mopes,” an officer with an uncanny ability to detect methamphetamine in cars is dubbed the “Meth Whisperer,” and the county jail is fondly called the “bed and breakfast.”

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“It’s like reading a novel, picking up a book every day,” said Broncho-Morning, who works as a pre-hospital liaison nurse at Redlands Community Hospital and has a background in emergency medicine. Her husband, Ron Morning, is a retired law enforcement official and also reads the page daily.

One recent morning, the page greeted readers with this: “Good morning everyone...Up and at ‘em. It’s 65 degrees outside of the Center for Mope Studies.”

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The page has gained enough traction that it is now the third-most popular police department Facebook page in the nation, trailing only New York and Boston. And the numbers -- now more than 60,000 followers -- are climbing fast.

All of it is the handiwork of Chief David Oliver, an outgoing, jovial, 45-year-old father of four known for doling out bear hugs, jokes and high-fives to schoolchildren. Oliver has happily embraced the role of “Internet sensation” in recent months, his popularity fueled by his open way of communicating on social media.

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One of his friends, Brimfield Fire Chief Robert Keller, called the page an extension of the chief’s personality, and he compared Oliver to Jackie Gleason’s colorful and no-nonsense sheriff character in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Oliver loves meeting new people, watching “The Andy Griffith Show” and westerns like “Gunsmoke,” and spending time with family.

He is far less fond of the “mopes” -- anyone “who leeches off us and usually is engaged in criminal activity” -- whom he regularly and sternly berates in posts on the Facebook page (though not by name).

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He hopes to help change perceptions about law enforcement for the better.

“The one thing I hear, the constant message is, ‘You’re a real person. You’re just like us, except you’re a policeman,’” Oliver said in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s how it should be.”

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Oliver started the page in May 2010 to keep in touch with the community. His 15-person department receives more than 13,000 service calls a year, a large number of which involve out-of-towners.

At the time, he observed what he describes as a “sterile” environment for police department Facebook pages, often limited to simple rundowns of arrests and responses to emergency calls.

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The Brimfield department’s page, Oliver decided, would be more memorable.

Now, three years later, his day starts around 5:30 a.m. with a morning post. It often follows a set format: a weather forecast, a listing of birthdays and the disclaimer “Today is NOT my birthday” (which would be Aug. 9, for the record), a “song stuck in your head today,” and a quote. And the wish, to his band of followers, to have a great day.

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Law-breakers and law-abiders alike read the department’s page. Sometimes, suspects being put under arrest will ask that Oliver not post on Facebook about the incident.

He does it anyway -- again, without names or pictures.

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“If you come to Brimfield and commit a crime we are all going to talk about it,” Oliver wrote in a post on May 16. “The easiest way not to be called a criminal is not to be one. It is not calculus.”

Oliver is not without critics, some of whom question whether it is appropriate for a police chief to post his opinions on Facebook.

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The chief’s response? “If you don’t like it, change the Internet channel,” he wrote on June 8 before entering into a rant to the anonymous mother of a teenage girl addicted to meth.

But his Facebook fans also don’t hesitate to pour out affection for the chief. His face and catchphrases, as well as “no mopes” logos, appear on T-shirts and mugs that are sold online as Brimfield Police Department “swag” and benefit security improvements in local schools. He meets as many as four families a day who aren’t from Brimfield and come to the station just to meet him.

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The next step may be a book deal. A publisher in the Cleveland area contacted Oliver about writing about the Brimfield Police Department and its Facebook page.

“We all have stories, but just the way he puts his spin on them -- he’s a really good storyteller,” said Ron Morning, the retired law enforcement officer in Redlands who worked in the field for 21 years, adding that he’d buy Oliver’s book when it’s published.

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Oliver says he sees an effort underway among law enforcement agencies across the country to counteract bad stereotypes, to show that police are just like anybody else.

Brimfield, he said, was “ just putting a voice to it.”

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From here, Oliver plans to watch the Facebook fan base grow -- the page has added more than 12,000 new followers in the last two days, and Oliver enthusiastically announces “prizes” at every new milestone -- and plans to continue encouraging people to come to Brimfest, a town festival that runs Sept. 19-22 and includes a parade and a carnival. He has already invited military veterans to come march in the parade, and all of his Facebook fans to line the streets with “Welcome home” signs.

Officials said turnout to Brimfest could be bigger than usual with the publicity, and visitors have already begun booking rooms at local hotels.

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As always, any mopes looking for lodging will find vacancies at the Brimfield Police Department “bed and breakfast.”

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devin.kelly@latimes.com

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Twitter: @devkelly17


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