Deputy cultivates community through road reports

Getting information out to the public

Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Kellen is most recognizable to residents of Lee County in north-central Illinois, either in or next to his squad car, giving a road condition report on the department’s Facebook page.

DIXON, Ill. — Kyle Kellen doesn’t fly around Lee County in a traffic helicopter, but even so, when he’s off duty and out in public, he’s most likely to be recognized as the road-report deputy.

That local fame is thanks to Kellen’s popular Facebook videos for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, detailing local winter road conditions in the county in north-central Illinois.

“I can’t believe the number of people I run into when I’m off duty and they’ll stop me and say, hey, you’re the one who does the videos on Facebook,” he said.

The road-condition videos have increased traffic to the sheriff’s department’s Facebook page, where Kellen and other page administrators now use Facebook to get timely information out to Lee County residents.

Kellen has been with the sheriff’s department for over 17 years. When he came to the department, it had a Facebook page.

“We didn’t use it a lot at the beginning. They gave me admin rights on the page, so I started posting more things to it,” he said.

While Kellen’s road-condition videos tend to be brief, covering the main roads in the county, the road-condition videos feed off of themselves.

People who view the videos often leave their own reports on how conditions are in their areas or on their commute.

“People will watch the videos and then they will comment, like ‘I took Route 2 from Dixon to Sterling and it was clear.’ People know they can go on those posts and comment or ask about road conditions on a certain road and someone will usually respond,” Kellen said.

He said at first there was some reluctance from those who already were administrators of the page.

“Social media was not something they were used to using to communicate with the public. I was trying not to upset them while, at the same time, trying to make the case that this is a way that we can get information out to a lot of people at once,” he said.

When a post garnered a negative reply from the public, Kellen usually had some explaining to do.

“I would get pulled into the office and they would ask — why did you post that, because somebody responded with a negative comment, or said they didn’t like the post? I understood their concern,” he said.

“So, I had to explain — there might be one or two negative responses, but there are 750 likes for that same post. You have to weigh the good with the bad.”

The popularity of some of the first videos he posted came as a shock.

“One of the first videos I posted had around 70,000 views — and we don’t have 70,000 people in the county. So, that really surprised me,” Kellen said.

But he continued to promote Facebook as a way to get information out to the public and to bring the sheriff’s department closer to the public.

“Most of the residents of our county will never have contact with law enforcement. They won’t be a victim of a crime and they won’t be an offender,” he said.

“So, we needed a way to connect with residents and to get information out to the residents of our county. Everyone has social media, so we said why not try that?”

Kellen is a fan of videos because they tend to be more popular with the public.

“If people see a big long paragraph on a post, they probably aren’t going to read the whole thing. They’ll maybe skim it,” he said.

“If it’s a video, they can play it, listen to the audio, and it’s easy, they are getting the information. It makes it easier for people to get that information right away rather than have to read through a long post.”

As the road-condition videos increased in popularity and drove more traffic to the Facebook page, Kellen has expanded the variety of videos and information he posts.

Kellen is a captain on the Sublette Fire Department and has been a member of the department for 24 years. He also farms part-time for a friend.

“I farm on the side, too, so that made me think, what can I post about farm safety? So, I posted information that most people wouldn’t know, like if you are following a farm implement or a grain truck and you can’t see the operator, they can’t see you,” he said.

“Or, turn signals — a lot of people don’t know that when one signal is flashing, the other is solid, so you know that the turn signal is on and that implement is preparing to turn.”

Kellen said he wants to pull in more of his fellow deputies to appear in posts on the page.

“We’re trying to get more faces on there instead of just my face on there. I don’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, it’s always just him.’ Absolutely not. The trick is to figure out who likes it because some of our deputies don’t get into social media or don’t want to be a part of it,” he said.

Kellen said he is encouraged by the sheriff department leadership. Sheriff Clay Whalen, elected in 2022, is a former Dixon Police Department detective.

“When it comes to social media, without a doubt Dixon P.D. is above and beyond. Sheriff Whalen, who came from Dixon P.D., has opened it up a lot more. He said if you want to put funny stuff up there, game on, let’s do it,” Kellen said.

“Chief Deputy Derek Ranken is the same way. He’s the same generation I am, so he’s like we can post funny stuff.”

Another balancing act is to gauge how much information to release to the public.

“It can be a double-edged sword. You’re trying to get information out, but you have to be careful not to give out information that could compromise evidence or an investigation. People want to know everything — but what do they need to know?” Kellen said.

He said he believes that increased activity on the page and interaction with the sheriff’s department via Facebook has made the public more willing to come forward with information.

“For instance, if we are looking for a suspicious vehicle in connection to vehicle break-ins, and someone saw a vehicle that was suspicious in their neighborhood, they might think well, that was weird, but I don’t want to bother them,” he said.

“Now, we post on Facebook that we are looking for a suspicious vehicle in connection to those vehicle break-ins, that person is more likely and willing to call us because they know we are looking for that suspicious vehicle. They know we are looking into it and they don’t feel like they are bothering us.”

Kellen started as the first resource officer at Sauk Valley Community College in December 2018.

While he continues to work as a road deputy when college is not in session, Kellen said his resource officer duties have changed how and when he makes his videos.

“I like to do the videos from wherever something is happening. Since I am not on the road all the time now, I am not able to be out and about as much as I was,” he said.

“For the weather stuff, it still works out just fine, especially in winter. If it’s bad enough and they cancel school, I go on the road and then I’m an extra car on the road, so that’s how I can still make the road condition videos in the winter.”

Kellen said he wants to encourage residents to submit ideas and topics for videos. They can submit those ideas to him at

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor