Fifteen Philadelphia police officers will soon be trained in the use of a new crime-fighting tool: Twitter. At a City Council hearing last week, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that with a tight budget, he plans to have his officers make more use of tweeting and other technologies.
Ramsey's communications director, Karima Zedan, says that the department is launching an effort to have officers at all levels tweeting regularly using their smartphones. In this abridged, edited transcript, she discusses why using Twitter to the police's advantage will bring many benefits for Philadelphia's communities.
When was it decided that officers would start tweeting regularly?
Our driving philosophy has been: Why not try to pave the way and use [Twitter] as a great tool to connect to people and put a face to the men and women who serve in the department. That's really what Twitter allows us to do. We've been on Twitter (@phillypolice) since September of 2009. It's been a great way to respond to people's questions, to give information to highlight programs that the police department is doing [and] to highlight the good works of people.
We have a very enthusiastic detective on Twitter, Joe Murray, and he's actually been tweeting for probably close to two years. We didn't even know about it. Joe Murray has been connecting to communities in our University City area (where the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University are, and a number of other organizations) and he's gained a following. Right now he has over 1,400 followers, and people have really loved having him as a virtual presence.
How is using social media to connect similar to policing 50 or 60 years ago?
If you read @ppdjoemurray's Twitter stream, you see just how engaged he really is. He'll tell you, "I'm not really doing anything more than what people did back in the '50s or '60s, people went out on foot patrol, they went into stores, they went and talked to people. I'm doing the same thing; I'm just doing it with my cellphone."
Will Joe Murray play a role in training these 15 officers on using Twitter?
Joe Murray will help lead the way. He understands the language, he knows how to use it and he's had great success. He's already contributed so greatly to our efforts here, to pushing information out and supporting the department's efforts. He is helping people see that this could be a really great tool. [Officers] will have their own independent accounts, and we really want them to become known in their community.
What will officers tweet about? Will officers be encouraged or discouraged from tweeting certain information?
We expect them to tweet information that is timely and relevant: public safety alerts, crimes in the area. We want them to stay within [the social media policy], so for example, please respect the privacy rights of victims, respect the integrity