RIFLE, Colo. (CBS4)– Rifle Police Sgt. Carlos Cornejo is a 10-year veteran police officer in the town of Rifle. Four years a sergeant, last year he had a thought about doing something about the misinformation he was seeing on social media.
“I saw a picture of one of our officers in a traffic stop and the description of that post was saying that we were arresting people for being outdoors, traveling without a mask,” said Sergeant Cornejo. “And clearly that was not accurate.”
He took a plan to his bosses with the Rifle Police Department asking about posting on issues involving police. That was April 2020. It has totally taken off.
“It’s weird to say, ‘OK, you know, there are 5 million views on this thing.’ That’s why it’s just … it’s just humbling to just think about that. It’s hard to picture at the same time.”
His Facebook page, Sergeant Carlos Cornejo, has more than 642,000 followers. All for a cop in a town on Colorado’s Western Slope with a population of less than 10,000.
“We started talking about clearing up some miscommunication … it also kind of grew to also include other things, like people’s rights talking about police procedures, what we can and can’t do and also bringing in a personal touch to it.”
At times that includes his singing and guitar playing or performing with a band. The messages will be discussions from his patrol car or around town. He records the messages in his native Spanish. Cornejo was an immigrant from Mexico as a child with his family. His father who worked the fields of the West gained residency under immigration policies approved during the Reagan administration, then was able to get citizenship for most of the family. Carlos grew up mostly in Rifle and became a police officer.
For a while he has visited local radio stations to explain his work. But seeing misinformation online, he saw the opportunity to tell the story in a different way.
“I think I think it’s very needed, and I mean one of the reasons I think that my page has grown as it has is for that reason. That need to connect.”
His postings will bring hundreds of comments and questions.
“The problem is that sometimes they don’t have a lot of places to go find the right information in their language, so bad information gets easily translated transmitted push the out correct information, fact-based information, not so much.”
“It’s funny because a lot of the topics that I talk about that get a lot of attention are traffic-related, which was shocking to me … I have this whole thing about, you know your Fifth Amendment rights or Fourth Amendment and they’re more curious about how long do I stop for a stop sign?”
COVID has been complicated.
“Initially, I mean we were talking about people confused about what regulations were going on.”
But when the vaccines came out and the Spanish-speaking community fell behind in vaccination rates, he felt he might be able to help. He is part of Colorado’s paid efforts to use social media influencers to share messages about vaccines.
“Seeing someone similar to you speaking to you, like you speak and giving you this information, I think, builds a little bit of rapport and trust in the community.”
But his reach is far beyond Rifle. He’s seen people making all kinds of claims in response, like misinformation that components of the vaccine will cause you to be magnetized and that there are microchips to track people. He tells people the phones they carry would be much better to track you. Police know that well.
“They track you a lot more than anything else and service is a lot better.”
It’s all a change from usual police messaging.
“I think that needs to be done a little bit more. Police departments are scared sometimes of you know, putting a police officer out there who might say the wrong thing that is going to, you know be on all these headlines and I think we need to get away from that fear a little bit.”
Police have a story to tell he believes, that’s not being heard enough.
“It’s a stressful job we have to deal with a lot of variables evolving, quickly evolving situations, people who are in crisis, people who are upset multiple times a day. And it wears on you when you go and see some horrible scene and the next thing you have to do is go deal with a dad and mom not getting along and then you know you have to go see someone take their life and then you have to pull somebody over.”
The replies are not only questions but those of support. It seems to be working. With vaccines, Cornejo believes he’s convinced some people and feels good about it.
“I’ve had people message me and tell me firsthand. ‘You know, I was hesitant and you know I made the decision to do it.’”