Stop or I'll tweet: Public safety hits and misses in social media

Wed, 2014-04-30 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

In a case of "be careful what you wish for," the New York Police Department's request last week for Twitter users to post photos of themselves with NYPD's finest got response alright. But not exactly the response they may have wanted.

A CNN story notes reaction on Twitter "was swift and overwhelmingly negative," with people hijacking the suggested #myNYPD hashtag and posting photos they said showed police brutality and misconduct. And the thing spread, with similar hashtags popping up in other cities. To be fair, there were some positive tweets.

And as Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster said in the CNN report, "The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community. Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city."

Like New York City PD, public safety agencies in cities large and small are experimenting with ways to use social media effectively. Here are few examples we found interesting:

Getting the public to help catch crooks: Oakland, California police use social media to solicit the public's help in solving crimes. SFGate tells the story of a shooting at a McDonald's that prompted Oakland police to send out descriptions of the suspects on Twitter, Nixle and Nextdoor. Within an hour a woman called the department with a location; the police raced there, arrested the suspects and got the gun used in the shooting.

Live tweeting on midnight patrol: Boynton Beach, Florida Police Officer Ron Ryan does virtual ride-alongs, tweeting to the department's Twitter followers as he works his midnight shift. It's part of the department's effort to use social media to better connect with residents, according to the SunSentinel. Here's a recent example of a tweet from Officer Ryan: “Our guys just executed a search warrant in the south end of the city on a known drug dealer. #saynotodrugs #ridewithbbpd Nice drug bust!”

Posting recovered property on Pinterest: Members of the Dallas, Texas Police Department tweet and blog but the department also launched a Pinterest page earlier this year, where it posts photos of recovered property and corresponding case numbers. A recent look at items posted revealed jewelry, bicycles, sports memorabilia, even an electric wheel chair.

Alerting people to where radar guns will be: In Keller, Texas you're just not paying attention if you blaze past an officer who clocks you with a radar gun. That's because Keller police are posting where they'll be camped out with their radar guns on Facebook and tweeting the locations as well. Their motive is to get people to slow down and reduce the number of accidents. A city spokeswoman said that two weeks after they started posting the information, they added 1,113 new Twitter followers and 2,187 new friends on Facebook.

Using social media to recruit: The Warwick, Rhode Island Police are looking for a few good men and women and created a special Facebook recruitment page and are also actively using Twitter to reach potential candidates who between the ages of 21 and 35.

If you read some of the articles linked above you'll see that there is debate over whether tweeting is a productive use of a police officer's time. What do you think? Use the Comment form below to add your thoughts.