The Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco's retention of a Vacaville-based media marketing firm, at an annual cost of $72,000, to develop strategies and techniques intended to enhance select deputies' use of social media to distribute information and attract a greater number of prospects during recruitment campaigns.
Bianco sought the potential five-year contract with Cole Pro Media without seeking competitive bids from other entities. Though he voted affirmatively, board Chairman Kevin Jeffries initially questioned the necessity of the agreement, admitting that he was "a little behind the times" and not current on some of the platforms in common use.
"Social media is a fad. Facebook will eventually go away," Jeffries said. "I have a bias. I'm still using paper, not a laptop. But I'm a little concerned about paying $6,000 a month for somebody to manage (the sheriff's) social media."
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A sheriff's spokesman told the board there are deputies assigned to sheriff's stations, along with the 4-6 person media bureau at sheriff's headquarters in downtown Riverside, who would benefit from specialized training in making the best use of available platforms.
In his written request to the board, Bianco highlighted the fact that Cole Pro has a professional services agreement with the District Attorney's Office and is also under contract with 26 other law enforcement agencies statewide, making it the right firm to serve the sheriff's department.
"Social media is a useful tool that can provide the communities with pertinent real-time information, and it is important for the department to use social media to develop a trustworthy relationship and transparency with the community," according to a sheriff's statement posted to the board's agenda.
"By creating stories and content that will resonate with the community and allowing residents to see law enforcement officers at work on social media addressing critical incidents, or hazardous situations of great public interest, this will help give citizens a sense of safety, security and connection to their community.''
The sheriff's department has used social media in the last decade for outreach, but "simply having a presence on social media does not equate to effective engagement with the community,'' according to the statement.
The contract calls for Cole Pro to provide training sessions for media bureau staff and designated personnel at sheriff's stations. The company's executives will also be available for consultations during emergencies and will "respond to the sheriff personally in a time of crisis to assist in public relations and crisis media management,'' according to the agency.
Officials additionally emphasized the need for better use of social media platforms in attracting "a bigger pool of applicants'' to choose from in staffing the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio.
The total cost of the contract if continued into 2024, as proposed, would be $396,000. The agreement can be canceled at any time, sheriff's officials said.