It may be a different approach, but he’s doing it.

Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney Dale Slack said he decided to start a social media page on April 12 dedicated to telling people what’s happening at his office.

“Every so often, we get a few angry or frustrated people who drop by the office or write letters unhappy with how we handle cases; usually, after we sit down and talk to them and explain the rules that we’re bound by, and the principles we try to carry out, they leave satisfied that we did our best,” Slack wrote in an email.

He added he had a Facebook page for a short time last year, but had to shut it down.  

Having one is a somewhat extraordinary move. Bigger counties may have one, but smaller areas tend not to.

“I don’t know of any others in Washington state, but a good friend of mine from law school is Shoshone County, Idaho, prosecutor, and her office runs a really well-managed Facebook page,” Slack wrote. “Nez Perce County, Idaho, is probably the closest I’ve seen.”

Slack said he and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney April King discussed how they could disseminate information and talk about why they had “to do strange things sometimes as prosecutors.”

He also said he wanted to have an open, transparent office. Town halls and speaking engagements were great, he said, but the number of people who interacted with local Facebook pages seemed “involved and vocal, so the Facebook page seemed like a good move.”

After speaking at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office’s Citizens’ Academy, Slack said people seemed to understand why his office did certain things and he wanted to expand his reach.

One of his latest posts features an eight-and-a-half-minute video on how the state’s criminal justice system works.

“(I) know that people are perfectly happy to watch a 10-minute video on Facebook about how kale helps your digestive system,” he wrote. “So I decided just to break down the presentation into smaller bits, take some information out, put some in, and make short, palatable videos for our Facebook page. People can watch them on their phones, at home, on their lunch break, at 3 in the morning, and learn something about the criminal justice system. I’m not saying these are the most detailed information, or fully handle the complex and subtle differences from case to case, but I think I give a good broad overview for everyday knowledge.”

Much of the information was taken from the two-hour presentation he made at the Citizens’ Academy, he said. Reactions to that were surprising.

“I noticed the amazed and shocked looks on the faces of the folks attending the presentation,” he wrote. “Most of my days are spent talking to other criminal justice system professionals who know how the system works already, so it’s easy for me to forget what folks who haven’t been criminal lawyers don’t know about our system… The idea occurred to me that if I could give my presentation from citizens’ academy to everyone in the county, they would probably leave, like those angry and frustrated citizens, with the understanding that we do good work here in a complicated system.”

More videos are coming.

“I think the next one I make will probably be sentencing, which is the second-most common thing people ask about,” he wrote. “After that, I haven’t decided — I’m hoping some people give input.”

He added he’d like to do them monthly, but he said it took a lot of work in his spare time, when the office was empty. But he liked the feedback he got so far, especially from family, and planned to keep going.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people in the community who follow our page, or saw one of the reposts,” he wrote. “We’ve had over 2,000 views, and my wife gave it a thumbs up, so that’s a small victory. It’ll be up there for at least three more years, so that’s plenty of time for people to see it.”

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

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