Ionia DPS on Facebook: ‘Push info to people’

The Ionia Department of Public Safety's Facebook page. (May 6, 2014)

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — As officers from multiple agencies chased an armed domestic violence suspect Sunday, the Ionia Department of Public Safety kept residents updated using Facebook.

The initial post on Ionia DPS’s Facebook page at 4:59 p.m. said there was a “vehicle pursuit with an armed suspect north bound on M-66 north of the City.” It asked residents to watch for patrol vehicles.

Ionia DPS Chief Troy Thomas was the man at the keyboard. His department was among those involved in the chase, but Thomas was at home listening to his police scanner.

“The residents in the area were not aware of what was going on,” he said. “[Ionia County] Central Dispatch was tied up, so I decided, ‘Let’s get some information out on Facebook. Let’s get the people aware of what’s going on.”

Listening to the police traffic, Thomas knew the suspect had a weapon. And he knew that at some point, the pursuit would come to an end.

“What his intentions with that gun were at that point, nobody will know. So wherever it came to a stop at, let’s let the people know this is where he’s at,” Thomas said. “There is a man with a gun. Let’s get inside your houses, safe and sound.”

He chronicled when the chase entered Montcalm County, turned around to head south back into Ionia County, and then became a foot chase. He told residents where the armed suspect was as he headed west on Tingley Road, then south through fields past Meade Road to Hubbell Road. He warned people in the area to lock their doors.

Thomas posted when shots were fired, and when the suspect was down.

That suspect, 31-year-old Steven Goble, fired first and officers returned fire. Goble sustained a gunshot wound — it’s not yet clear whether he was shot by police or by himself — and died at the scene.

At 6:12 p.m., Thomas posted that the scene was secure.

Through it all, residents offered prayers for those involved and thanks for the updates.

This isn’t the first time the Ionia DPS Facebook page has alerted residents to a large manhunt. In February, it posted alerts and updates when Michael Elliot, a convicted quadruple murderer, escaped from the nearby Ionia Correctional Facility.

Shortly after Thomas became chief two years ago, he decided the department should get a Facebook page.

“Let’s push information to people instead of having them come look for it,” Thomas explained his reasoning. “We started this to interact with the community and help them and it’s been nothing but positive for us.”

No other West Michigan law enforcement agency uses Facebook in quite the same way as Ionia DPS. Thomas gets plenty of positive feedback, but he’s aware there are some concerns.

For example, making police information public could alert the bad guys to what cops are doing.

In Sunday’s case, Thomas wasn’t concerned about that.

“Whatever was going out at that point was all over the radio, so it was all in the public air, so that I didn’t have a problem with,” he said. “There are some other instances where we will not put certain information out because it’s sensitive.”

He says the department determines how the information will affect the case and the officers before posting anything.

There’s also the concern that citizens could decide to take the situation into their own hands. Thomas said he understands that, but in this case, there were so many officers on the scene that any attempt would have been stopped.

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