How Police Can Use Twitter.

This blog post is one in a series that describes some of best and most interesting ways police use social media. This post is limited to Law Enforcement’s use of Twitter.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service in which users can share or “tweet” messages of 140 characters or less.  You simply follow those users whose tweets you want to see in your Twitter feed, and those who want to see your tweets, will in turn, follow you. The more value people see in your tweets the more followers you will have, and thus more eyes on the messages you are sharing. This presents an interesting premise for law enforcement. How can police use Twitter to provide valuable information for their citizens, and at the same time use it to fight crime in their communities? Well, I thought I would list a few examples on some interesting ways some police departments have been using the popular micro-blogging service.

Boston Police – Stolen Bikes

The Boston Police Department has a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. You can follow the department on Twitter @Boston_police, or follow its stolen bikes campaign.

A neat way that the BPD is using Twitter is to find track down stolen bikes. It is part of the city’s overall campaign to make Boston a great bicycling city.

“As part of our initiative to make Boston a world-class bicycling city, the Stolen Bike Alert program makes reporting stolen bikes easier and increases the chances of finding your stolen bike by giving you a larger network of search parties.” From The Stolen Bikes Community Alert website.

A citzen simply register his or her bike and then can report it stolen.

“When you report a stolen bike, we send out an alert to the police, local bike shops, hospital and school security, and everyone who follows us on Twitter or Facebook.” - From The Stolen Bikes Community Alert website.

You can follow the BPD’s stolen bike initiative on Twitter @stolenbikebos or on Facebook:  “Stolen Bikes Boston - Community Alert Program.”

For other ways to keep up with the Boston PD or connect with the city of Boston on its social media networks visit the city’s website.

Toronto - Traffic Services

Traffic Sgt. Tim Burrows at the Toronto Police department is on top of the social media conversation, and maintains the Twitter account: @TrafficServices. Sgt. Burrows “gets” how to use twitter.  He contributes to other blogs, and speaks about social media at conferences as well. Burrows uses Twitter to share traffic updates and efficiently move traffic around Toronto’s most congested areas. By advising drivers of traffic situations not only can citizens avoid time consuming traffic delays, but police are able to respond to emergency situations quicker as well.

Notifying the public about traffic situations is an overall part of the City’s mission to promote traffic safety.

“The Traffic Safety Programs section was created as a result of Traffic Safety being made a Service Priority by Chief Fantino in 2001.” - From the Toronto Police Department’s Traffic Services website.

Twitter such a powerful to for disseminating small but important updates to a mass amount of people – perfect for the Toronto Police Department’s Traffic Services.  The Twitter account @TrafficServices has close to 3,000 followers.

Australia – Drinking and Driving

Do you want an embarrassing and detailed description of yourself to be shared everyone following the Melbourne Police Department on Twitter? If not, perhaps you should think twice about taking that next drink and going for a drive around one of Australia’s most populated districts.

Victoria Police have used twitter to discourage drunk drivers by tweeting detailed description of their cars, as well as descriptions of drivers themselves.

Example of a tweet from @VictoriaPolice: “Idiot 1 - A 42yo man from Stony Creek. He blew .17 after police caught him driving down the wrong side of the Sth Gippsland Hgwy in Berwick.”

Police have undertaken this initiative using social media to reach out young drivers as well. They recognize drinking and driving is a major problem among the younger generation, and what a better way to connect with young people than social media – a web space in which teens and young adults live.

“Many young people use Twitter on their mobile phones, even when they’re out drinking and socializing,” he said. “If posting the details of bad behavior on Twitter stops even one person from getting in their car and driving drunk, it will be worth it.” - Read full article.

Denton Police (Unofficial) - Mugshots

The Denton Police department has benefited from Twitter and the TwitPic feature. You can post pictures using TwitPic through the site itself, or even using your phone. The link to the picture (TwitPic) appears in your tweet, thus making it to view and share.

@DentonPolice account is strictly devoted deterring crime through posting crime description, suspect description, and most important the suspect’s mugshot. TwitPic allows for easy sharing and viewing of the mug shots.  Even if you do not have a Twitter Account, your picture (mugshot) might be infront of the almost 2,000 followers – If you’re a wanted or recently captured criminal in Denton, that is!

The Twitter ID @DentonPolice is not an official Denton Police account.  It was created by Brian Baugh, a  student at the University of North Texas. Although, the student has been asked to take down the page since he not an official of the Dention PD, he has chosen not to do so due to its popularity. It is all legal as well, as Baugh is simply re-sharing what is public information already.

The account bio reads: “The unofficial Denton Mugshot twitter for Denton, Texas. Programmed by a UNT art photography student, drawing attention to how much public info we put online.”

The Twitter account doesn’t have to be official to humiliate criminals and deter criminal activity in the city of Denton.

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