Mention "social media" and "Miami Police Department" in the same breath, and one name comes to the minds of most South Floridians: Javier Ortiz, the Miami Police union chief who doubles as the king of cop trolling on Facebook and Twitter.
Over the past few months, Ortiz has given the department unwanted national attention by labeling the 12-year-old victim of a police shooting in Cleveland "a thug," urging a boycott of Beyoncé's Miami concert, and harassing a woman who posted a YouTube video of herself pulling over a speeding Miami-Dade Police officer.
But now MPD is trying to create its own narrative on the web, and to make it happen, the department has organized the first full-time police social media team in South Florida.
Operating out of an office tucked behind the reception desk in the lobby of Miami Police headquarters, MPD's 3-month-old, three-officer Social Media Unit (SMU) works to crank out vlogs and Facebook and Twitter content for the department.
It's a startling embrace of the web for a force that hasn't always had the best luck with inviting cameras behind the scenes. In 2011, then-Chief Miguel Exposito cost himself his job by letting a reality show film a violent promo that caught him calling suspects "predators" on film amid a historic run of fatal police shootings in the city.
MPD's new unit has a different approach, though, best illustrated by its behind-the-scenes video at Ultra Music Fest — a clip that has already racked up nearly 40,000 views on YouTube:
While many police departments in South Florida rely on their public information office to manage their social media accounts, MPD is the first with a full-time social media team.
The unit's origin traces to late last year, when Sgt. Misael Reyes, a 20-year Miami Police veteran attached to the State Attorney's Office, went to Chief Rudy Llanes with the idea for a vlog. The chief told him that they were already in the process of hiring a social media specialist and asked him to come up with a broader proposal for a social media unit.
Commander Delrish Moss, the head of the department's community relations section, had pitched the idea to previous police chiefs but could never get the plan off the ground. "This is an idea that I've been pushing for years," Moss says. This time, Llanes gave the green light.
(Both Moss and Reyes say Ortiz's negative antics didn't directly inspire the unit's creation, but the union chief's national reach certainly hasn't helped gin up positive headlines for the force.)
One of Reyes' first jobs was to find someone who would be the online face of the department. He honed in on Nick Perez, a charismatic 33-year-old street cop. Perez, a Cooper City High School grad who says he's been a DJ since the ninth grade, joined the department in 2007.
Though the team doesn't have a dedicated budget, Llanes agreed to assign three officers to work full-time on the duty.
Reyes' next move was to start a YouTube account, which the department had never done before. A little more than three months after its creation, there are now 23 videos on Miami PD's YouTube page, which has picked up more than 800 subscribers.
Click through the videos and you'll notice a different approach than those of most other forces. Many departments use their YouTube accounts to post grainy surveillance videos of gas station robberies, but Perez has embraced an on-camera style some have likened to popular New York City YouTuber Casey Niestat — if Niestat carried a badge and a gun.
One elaborately produced video is a recruiting film for the department. Somehow Perez persuaded Chief Llanes to appear in a cameo role.
Much of Perez's time is spent shooting vlogs that give civilians a look at life as a cop. On one vlog, he takes viewers for a ride-along on the midnight shift.
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The SMU also produces shorter informational videos that are posted on MPD's Facebook page, which has tripled its followers in the past few months.
The SMU is an interesting gamble for a force that has struggled with negative headlines for years. Just last month, MPD agreed to a slew of new policies to end a federal probe into the string of fatal shootings of black suspects that began under Exposito's tenure as chief.
How will the team respond next time Ortiz stirs up a national hornets' nest with a Facebook rant or another scandal rocks the department?
For now, Perez and his crew are focused on pulling back the curtain on daily police work — and they're getting eyeballs online with their approach.