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.

Social Media’s Role in National Preparedness Month.

September is National Preparedness Month in the US.

national preparedness month

During this time governments and other public safety authorities will be disseminating a ton of information regarding emergency preparedness and response, and encouraging citizens to “understand what it truly means to be Ready.”

My interest in this subject is the application of social media in emergency preparedness. As we have seen in the past social media can play a major role in emergency events. From Twitter breaking the news of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, to the Los Angeles Fire Department communicating wildfire information via Twitter, to the students of Virginia Tech using Facebook to share critical information after the 2007 shootings, we have seen the potential communication benefits of web 2.0 tools under emergency circumstances.

As the world of new social media evolves so too does its role in emergency preparedness. During the next big emergency situation or natural disaster, not only will we see Twitter and Facebook used more effectively, but other social media tools will come into play. Here are just some of the advancements in new social media that will undoubtedly help us all better prepare for and manage communications during a crisis.


emicus logo

Emicus - Community Powered Emergency Information - is free online tool for emergency preparedness during natural disasters. The website’s mission is to “make it easy for you and your community to get and share disaster information.” Website features include a services map to find critical services such as gas, building supplies, pharmacies etc; information sharing via an iphone apps, mapping tools, Twitter and Youtube accounts, and an SMS system for text alerts; and a News and Hurricane Tracker that is constantly updated to provide the most current news about a hurricane or hurricane warnings. The website also has a lot of other neat features and preparedness advice as well.

Smartphone Apps


iPhone markets its apps by claiming “there’s an app for almost anything,” and they’re right, there are even apps for emergency preparedness. One iPhone app called “Hurricane” developed by Kitty Code is a hurricane tracking application that gives you the ability to track violent storms and see where they are heading. The tracking map lets you see where the storm is coming from, where it’s going, and displays hurricane stats like speed, direction, pressure, and distance from you. Such technology did not exist during Hurricane Katrina and one can only wonder how the outcomes would have differed if it did. Another good example of an iPhone app is called “Outbreaks Near Me,” which it tracks H1N1 flu outbreaks. It can be used to alert users when an outbreak is reported in their area and provide real-time outbreak news and information. A pandemic can be a very devastating crisis with people frantically looking for current news and updates on the virus, “Outbreaks Near Me” puts this information at the fingertips of users.



Podcasting is the next step for public safety authorities to take in their social media campaigns. Many emergency services use Twitter and Facebook to share timely info with their constituents, although effective, an even richer means of communication can be disseminated just as easily. Podcasting is a social media tool that delivers rich audio and video content to subscribers via RSS (Really Simple Syndication). You do not need access to a Twitter or Facebook account, just the RSS Feed URL for a podcast and you can access the podcast from any internet compatible device. Audio and video content can be a lot more effective for important information like “how to” instructions or relaying ground zero information.

At DailySplice Technologies, we have developed one of the easiest podcast management tools in the industry, with features especially handy for the emergency services sector. One of the features, called “FieldCast,” allows a first responder to record a podcast straight his/her mobile phone, as simple as leaving a voice mail. A first responder that cannot easily access Twitter for a 140 character notification can quickly dial in an audio podcast as soon he/she appears on the scene and let everyone know what the circumstances are. Characteristics like the first responder’s tone of voice or background noise help people define what the situation on ground zero is really like. You can easily see how this technology may be of great potential benefit for crisis management.

Social media shouldn’t define communications for disaster preparedness, but act as an important information sharing tool in your emergency communications tool kit. If used correctly as a part of a strategic and comprehensive emergency preparedness plan, social media can save lives!