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To connect online, cops use nostalgia

The easy part about Facebook is setting up a page, posting photographs and videos and adding comments about your view of the world.

The hard part is getting anyone to care.

But the Town of Tonawanda Police Department has figured out the key to getting repeat visitors and pumping up those page views: nostalgia.

A trio of detectives is posting old photographs taken in the town and inviting visitors to either guess the scene or bask in the memories of days gone by.

Detective Brian Moline, who along with fellow Detectives Tom Moore and Bill Fleming are the faces behind the Facebook page, said the response has been even better than he expected.

"Even with the intention of attracting more views, I didn't realize the page was going to get as much attention as it has recently," he said.

As with many good ideas, this one happened by accident. The town cops created the page with an eye toward connecting with residents who could go on Facebook to see recent police reports, crime-prevention tips and news releases. What you got were posts like this: "The kids are back in school -- PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY." That's what you'd expect from a Police Department's Facebook page, but it's not exactly the kind of thing that's likely to go viral.

Fleming thought that old pictures might bring some more traffic to the page, so he started posting them. The first ones were old police photos, showing long-ago crime scenes and posed shots in black and white of officers from earlier eras. The page shifted to newer photos, such as a shot of the graduates of the town's most recent Citizens Police Academy or a volunteer fire company open house.

Then, in the last few weeks, the detectives started posting photos that had nothing to do with crime-fighting and everything to do with the good ol' days.

Suddenly, it seemed as if everyone wanted to be friends with the Town of Tonawanda Police Department -- and not just to try to get out of a speeding ticket. In late January, a picture of the iconic blue whale car wash on Young Street near the Colvin Extension was posted. As of Monday, that had brought 290 "likes," 165 comments, 122 shares and the question, "Did you enter or exit from the whale's butt?? Haha!"

The idea took off from there. The collection of nonpolice photos would bring back memories for anyone who remembers when Acme and Loblaws were the supermarkets of choice in Western New York; when the I-290 was the name of an expressway and a drive-in theater; and when the best way to start an argument in Tonawanda was to wade into a crowd of people and announce that Ted's hot dogs couldn't hold a candle to Pat's.

Moline, son of the longtime former Town Supervisor Ronald Moline, said the pictures come from a variety of sources. Some were in the department archives, some were on other websites, and -- since more people have been seeing them -- some have been emailed from people wanting to get in on the fun. And more people, including people in the 25-to-54 age group he was trying to reach, are checking the page to see what the department is up to.

Brian Moline said it's not just the added traffic that tells him the page is working; it's the people who approach him and ask if he has seen the photos, having no idea that he probably posted them. He loves to sit back and watch people reminisce online about an intersection or a storefront.

There's one other thing he said he loves about it: "It is a reminder of the large number of people/generations that are connected to this community."