Nearly 275,000 people follow the California Highway Patrol Truckee office’s Facebook page. Another 23,800 folks keep tabs on the agency through Instagram, and 13,300 via Twitter. One of the officers manning these social media channels — and the creator himself — is Pete Mann, and his approach for sharing information about traveling around the Truckee/North Tahoe area is to do it with a sense of humor.
Surely, it’s important for emergency personnel to maintain a sense of humor given all the darkness they experience. What’s a situation that still has you laughing? How do you approach posting about incidents on CHP social media?
Levity in life is extremely important. Nowhere is this truer than in the role of a first responder. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical professionals (nurses, emergency room docs, paramedics, emergency medical technicians) see the worst of what humans are capable of, and capable of doing to themselves and others. Humor becomes a mental stress relief for the people who must work with and try to fix some of the darkest things one could imagine. Sometimes crude, sometimes crass, but having a light heart and a good sense of humor is essential for any person who wants to make a career out of being a first responder. It’s that release of laughter that keeps us coming back the next day even when the last day could not have gone any worse.
It’s impossible to narrow seven-plus years of social media shenanigans down to one situation that still has me laughing. For me, personally, it’s usually the stories that don’t get shared that have myself and my colleagues laughing the hardest. If you can dream it, we have seen it. Some of the stuff that still sticks out in my mind as good go-to stories are the ones that made me laugh on a different level.
About a year after I had started the [CHP – Truckee] Facebook page here, I [responded to a] call of a vehicle off the road and stuck in the snow out by Boca Reservoir. Upon getting to the scene, I see a young lady standing next to her car and her car buried in the snow just past the road closed sign. She looked mortified when I got there, and the first thing she said to me wasn’t ‘I need a tow truck’ or some crazy story of how she ended up here, it was, ‘Please don’t put me on the CHP Truckee Facebook page.’ To this day, I chuckle about this, as the page wasn’t very big at this time, but was gaining traction quickly, and I thought to myself, not only is our different approach to law enforcement social media working, but we’re getting famous when that’s what someone was more concerned about — not the fact their vehicle was buried or how they were getting out of the situation.
Outside of the stories that haven’t been told, the other ones that make me smile are the ones I had to take down. The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile crashed into a snowbank on the freeway some years ago, and as you could imagine the comments got quite spicy. So much so that our chief who oversaw our division at the time called me at home on Christmas Eve to [demand I] remove the post. I didn’t even know he knew my name. We still joke about it when we see each other.
But that’s just social media. Creating content and getting people to look at something new and then lacing a safety message in with it is just half the battle for me. The moderation side of it is a task on its own. Keeping trolls under their proverbial bridges, stopping people who are attacking others, and the standard keyboard warriors are just some of the obstacles in typical days’ work. I will say, though, that we have some of the best followers in the world. They help to regulate the people who get out of hand and are quick to keep the conversation and humor going in a good direction.
The most important thing for me when posting an incident on a social media platform is the tone. If someone is hurt or this is a serious situation, the jokes stop. There is a job to do and keeping people informed of the incident and the seriousness of the situation becomes paramount. Most of the time it can be a good reminder or a solid lesson for a massive audience. Once I know the tone, serious versus lighthearted, I try to figure out what safety message I can slide in with the quip. And all this hinges on the image or the video that the rest of the officers send me. That part of it takes all of us. I am never at all these scenes so getting everyone at the office on board and taking ownership and pride of our social network is crucial. But as a team we have persevered, and I look forward to the next crazy thing to happen here in Truckee and North Lake Tahoe!
~ Officer Pete Mann is a 16-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol and has been assigned to the CHP Truckee area office since 2009. He created the CHP Truckee Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages, and continues to be the primary person in charge of the social pages. These days, with the help of Officer Carlos Perez, he continues to find new social trends to have fun with or make fun of. You never know what tomorrow brings till it’s here, so hold on and enjoy the ride.