I very rarely read newspapers anymore, be it the physical or online versions, and frankly, don’t really miss it. What I do miss is keeping up to date on the crime rate in my town by reading the police blotters. It’s not the most “feel good” section of the paper but it gives me a sense of what’s happening in my town on the public safety front.

twitter iconsTo my surprise, while at a City Council meeting, the subject of local Police Departments using Twitter took the floor. The discussion was whether our local Police Department should announce crimes and issues relating to public safety on a Twitter account. I was intrigued and decided to do a bit of research on the subject, and what I have found is that many Police Departments across the country use Twitter to inform the public. Some of the notable Police Departments that implement Twitter for public information are: Baltimore PD with 10,254 followers, by far, the most in my findings, New York PD with 6,735 followers and Dallas with 2,981 followers. There are many more that can be found with a simple Twitter search.

A city that is reasonably close to me and implementing Twitter is Modesto, California. Modesto is a city of 205,000 people, has a department totaling 370 personnel and 2887 screen-shot-2010-10-23-at-15640-amTwitter followers. According to Sgt. Brian Findlen, Modesto PD Information Officer, “The use of social networking sites boost the relationship and flow of information between the police and citizens, but overuse can result in too much of a good thing.” Sgt. Findlen emphasizes the information posted to the Twitter account needs to be pertinent and makes a difference in people’s lives. Non-pertinent information leads to citizens ignoring the tweets or unfollowing altogether.

So does it work? Do citizens respond to the information well? Detailed below is an example, from Modesto PD on how Twitter keeps the public informed and brings criminals to justice:

In late August 2009, police chased a vehicle containing suspects in a double homicide. The armed suspects abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. During the subsequent manhunt in a residential neighborhood, Findlen used Twitter to keep citizens updated through when arrests were made and the neighborhood police perimeter lifted.

After seeing how some local law enforcement implements Twitter to inform citizens, keep them safe and receive useful information to bring bad guys to justice, I don’t see why all law enforcement does not utilize social media.

I believe there are many other public and private entities that can put social media to good use. The Center for Disease Control can use social media to inform on pertinent issues, in our area West Nile Virus becomes an issue in the wetter months. Gas and electric companies can inform the public on gas leaks or power outages. California wildfires are a big issue in the summer months, fire departments and forestry services can disperse information very quickly with social media.

I want to know your ideas on what types of public information you would consider pertinent to share on social media sites such as Twitter?