Humanizing the Badge

by Maleesa Smith | May 21, 2019

How One Baylor Graduate is Changing How Police Work is Viewed

About 30 miles northwest of Dallas sits the affluent, growing city of Southlake. Known for its premiere shopping and a high-performing school district, the town is far from a hotbed for crime, yet its Department of Public Safety has fans all across the nation.

This is mostly thanks to one man: Officer Brad Uptmore, Southlake DPS Public Information Officer and Baylor alumni (‘03). Last February, he officially started managing the department’s social media pages. At the time, the Southlake DPS Facebook page had around 9,000 followers. In less than a year, it grew to 35,000.

For reference, the city of Southlake boasts a population of 31,000 residents, and over 35% of that figure is comprised of minors, according to the 2017 Census. Clearly, Uptmore’s audience extends beyond the boundaries of his city. He estimates about four of their social media campaigns have gone viral, which he defines as more than one million impressions. While his posts and videos often spread because people find them hilarious, they are also conveying important messages of safety, and often, kindness.

“Chief Brandon told me on the first day that we want to be open and honest with our citizens,” Uptmore said. “We’ll show you that we’re not just a shining badge, a flashlight in your face or a traffic stop. We’re humanizing the badge.”

This mission comes at a crucial time as police departments around the U.S. have been the subject of national scrutiny in the past five years. Uptmore, who was an officer with Dallas Police Department for 10 years, knows better than most that there is a dark side to police work.

“I’m not a person – especially after working in Dallas – who believes that the glass is half full,” he said. “Nobody calls 911 to their home for a pat on the back. You’re going to see the worst of the world when you arrive. Whenever you see that day in and day out, it’s hard to stay positive.”

When viewing his posts through Southlake DPS, however, it would be easy to assume that he’s an optimist. The first post that went viral, for example, was written in a humorous, conversational tone that had people laughing for weeks. Now referred to as the “Gurl, Call Me” post, the social media post was addressed to a suspect, Crystal Ladawn Finley, who has since been found and arrested. It read, in part: “We’ve obvi been looking all over for you! Luckily, the loss prevention guys prevented you from getting too much property, amiright? We have the warrant and we’re letting all of our besties know what you’ve been up to… Gurl, CALL ME.”

The post ended up getting almost 30 thousand shares and helped lead to her eventual arrest. It also garnered a myriad of new page followers from all over. Uptmore knew he was onto something, but there was also some criticism on the professionalism of the department’s social media.

“We want to be engaging. We certainly don’t mind humor,” Southlake Police Chief James Brandon said. “However, we are still a professional environment. So we don’t ever want to convey that we are anything less than professionals. There are a lot of things that Brad has the freedom to post that I don’t ever see. If he isn’t sure how people will react, he and I will sit down and discuss that. There are times where I might not be aware of a particular way of presenting something.”

When asked if he has found the boundary of professional yet humorous and engaging, Uptmore laughs and says, “I’ve found a few corners.”

“It was like driving a new car – just trying to figure out what people like and once I saw that they were into the creativity, every day was just trying to find the boundaries,” he said.

By far the biggest hits on the department’s social media pages are the videos that Uptmore produces. In 2018 alone, 11 videos collectively received 2.5 million views. Comments rolled in from Missouri to Colorado to Oregon. Uptmore, who majored in film at Baylor from 1999 to 2003, feels that life has finally come full circle as he uses his creative side as a police officer.

“Back when I was at Baylor I would have never thought that many views on my work was possible, short of making a film for the big screen,” he said. “It just blows my mind.”

Uptmore grew up a few miles north of Waco in West, Texas. His mom went to Baylor and he received a scholarship, so for him, the choice was a no-brainer. The choice of picking a major, however, was not so simple.

“Everyone I knew at Baylor knew what they wanted to be,” he recalled. “I never felt that. I knew I wanted to write or create, but I didn’t really know the right way to do that. I had one class in the journalism building, and I saw the stuff that they were doing and I thought ‘I’m going to be a film major.’”

He jumped in with both feet to what was then called telecommunications. He has fond memories of lectures from Steve Schaefer and opportunities to send script ideas to Baylor alumni in Hollywood.

Uptmore described himself as too practical to try to make it in the film industry in California. So, upon graduating from Baylor in 2003, Uptmore worked in Illinois refinancing subprime mortgages – a job that made him feel, in his words, “icky.” In 2006, he started his career as a police officer with the Dallas Police Department. Even though his creative side was not put to the task, Uptmore would often come home and write up scripts from some of the more interesting calls he responded to.

“We had interesting calls at work and I would come home and write a three to four-page paper to stow it away,” he said. “I always have a different angle or lens to look at things. Police work can be hilarious. You see so many parts of the world and so many weird things happen.”

Things came full circle about a year after he started with Southlake PD. Now, in his role as public information officer, Uptmore is able to use his knowledge of public safety and his creative side to make funny, informative videos and posts that inevitably spread like wildfire. Behind many of those messages, his audience will notice a common theme: One of kindness and compassion.

“The community is able to relate to us and realize that we are people just doing our jobs just like they are,” Chief Brandon said. “There are good days and bad days, and it’s about breaking down those barriers in the community.”