Social media digs ferret's addition to ISU police

Ferret Bueller

Support services Capt. Zack McVey holds the newest addition to the ISU Police Department, Ferret Bueller, in a picture posted on Facebook as an April Fools' joke. Photo courtesy of ISU Police.

Bueller. Bueller. Bueller.

Actually, it's Detective Bueller.

ISU Police created a social media sensation with an April Fools' joke viewed by millions. On April 1, the police department posted on its Facebook page a picture of support services Capt. Zack McVey holding the newest addition to the force: Ferret Bueller. The ferret, given the honorary rank of detective complete with a mini police badge, was hailed as a narcotic-detecting ferret, less expensive to train than a drug-sniffing dog and capable of getting into small spaces.

The post exploded in popularity with more than 6,700 likes, nearly 5,000 comments and 29,000 shares to date.

"We were not expecting this at all," McVey said. "We are at 4.4 million profiles on Facebook that have viewed the post and counting."

The joke left many wondering if a ferret -- one of two owned by public safety officer Tim Murphy -- could perform drug-sniffing duties. That was quickly debunked in a post the next day, this time with Bueller sporting an ISU Police red vest. Bueller got an assist from the department's two certified therapy dogs, Zosia and Zeb, for the miniature badge and vest -- both extremely popular among Facebook commenters.

"Zosia and Zeb are out on campus frequently, and as part of one of our giveaways we had some stuffed Zosias made," McVey said. Bueller's badge and vest came from one of the toys. 

The idea for the April Fools' Day post began a few years ago with a discussion with a teacher when McVey was a school resource officer in Ankeny. He presented it to police chief Michael Newton, who much to McVey's surprise, was in favor of it. The success of the original post led to a return for Bueller on April 20 (4/20) -- code for smoking marijuana -- when he went "sniffing" for drugs in cars and campus dorm rooms.

"We had students who recognized him and came over to interact and hold him. We certainly plan to use him some more on social media now that he has gained some fame," McVey said. "We still get comments on the post 27 days into it."

"One of the hallmarks of Iowa State is innovation," Newton said. "We want our team to try new approaches that will connect us with all members of our community. Our fun social media presence gives many in the community and us a talking point to get conversations started."

Bueller's celebrity continues to grow with student-made posters now popping up in the Armory. 

It's not the first time ISU Police has been a hit on social media. In 2017, with the Ames Police Department, it launched "Donut Disrespect" to promote respect for everyone. That campaign went viral with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

Bigger impact

Bueller's addition led to plenty of laughs and positive engagement for the police department, but it had an impact on a more important issue.

"Between April 1-3 we gained almost 4,000 followers to our social media accounts. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it wasn't all lighthearted content. We were posting some very serious content about sexual assault and helping survivors," McVey said. "That more serious content had a greater reach because of this post."

Newton said ISU Police can't do its job alone, and social media is one of many tools it uses to meet larger goals of making Iowa State a safe, secure and welcoming community.