Thoughts on: Twitter, Public Safety, Law Enforcement

In this entry, I’ll share my thoughts on Twitter as a public safety service and opine on Law Enforcement’s engagement on it as well as provide suggestions to law enforcement agencies nationwide to better interact with Twitter (ultimately, their citizens). Also, I compiled a comprehensive list of all the Police departments who are on Twitter.

Twitter has gained a lot of popularity in a relatively short amount of time. If you’re not Tweeting yet (the act of posting a message on Twitter), you probably should. Beyond the anecdote of ‘massive growth,’ Twitter has quite a bit of momentum and probably one of the most engaging social media services to date. Boasting 422% growth in 12 months, it has outpaced the growth of professional social network, LinkedIn.

With this growth, it attracted many users. “Use” is the the keyword, since many people utilize Twitter for different reasons. For some, it’s the live nature of the conversations as they lurk and voyeur from their desktop to see what the world is talking about. For others, its the pseudo-permanent/private/public conversation with their peers. Several companies have taken their social media efforts and laser-focused them into building strong Twitter relationships with their users. Comcast demonstrates an example of consumer advocacy on Twitter. Along with the good, comes the influx of abuse — harassment, spam and SEO hijinks — but Twitter seems to have a good handle on their network integrity lately.

An interesting trend which is exclusive to Twitter compared to traditional social networks is increase in participation from Law Enforcement agencies (aka, cops) in disseminating public safety information to the masses — or at least to those that follow them. Lacking police 10-Code jargon, the police can be followed by the average citizen without knowledge of proprietary procedures. As an example, pre-Twitter police departments would require citizens to acquire a police scanner, look up frequencies and learn to decipher their 10-code variations, learn the vernacular to get updates on their police. This big step in information disclosure, especially from a law enforcement agency. It is intriguing, even questionable by some. I realize dispatchers aren’t going to relay calls through Twitter; and obviously a Public Information Officer (PIO, aka, sacrificial lamb) will be posting messages, leveraging the use of 140-character limitation to their advantage.

So in my metro region, Scottsdale Police Department is on Twitter. I discovered through my friend and colleague, Editweapon, when he posted a suggestive response to @ScottsdalePD about their traffic school options. No reply from Scottsdale Police Department as subtly expected — which raises the question over their underlying motive behind Twitter usage– is it really public awareness or merely a public relations ulterior cover?

Now, I realize the police department lacks resources to answer every question, but if one can still achieve instant gratification from a police officer in uniform, why can’t someone receive the some from the person behind the ScottsdalePD Twitter account? If you want, try it. Just wait at a Quick Trip for a Scottsdale unit to show up to get a refill on their Drank, then just start some idle dialog. They are decent approachable people. According to their Twitter profile, “Excellence. Initiative. Integrity,” they seem to be lacking initiative and integrity in posting timely updates to those who are interested. I don’t want to have to reprogram my Triple-Trunked Police Scanner, I’d like to just lurk on Twitter to get updates from them.

I will contend there is a huge opportunity for law enforcement agencies to broadcast public safety matters to a wide audience with minimal effort. I would probably say that NCMEC is the best-in-class public safety alerting mechanism on Twitter. Whenever there is a catastrophic event, Twitter is very useful, inexpensive, [mostly] reliable and searchable social media device that empowers users for awareness. I’ve written about the potential juxtaposed against the importance of Twitter, so definitely read up on my thoughts on that.

I’ve wondered if I ever tweeted an emergency toward a public safety agency, would they receive it. Much like if I text a SMS message to “911,” would the PSAP receive it? I never tried it as I’m sure I would test it in an actual emergency situation. I can anticipate that as text messaging surpasses voice messaging, emergency services would adapt and be prepared. I don’t know, but if a dispatcher knows, feel invited to comment anonymously here and let me know. :) Otherwise, I urge citizens to demand that their tax dollars are spent on improve technology to empower 911 operators.

In summary, police departments who use Twitter are taking a step in the right direction; however, they must understand the immense responsibility in what they do. When a public-safety official posts (or fails to post) messages in a timely manner, people’s lives can be at risk. If anything, it becomes a great asset for journalists if not for citizens as they can be micro-messaged if they follow them with their cell phone.

Here are a list of police departments or law enforcement agencies I found who exist on twitter. Go a head and follow them and re-Tweet any interesting, important or useful Tweets:

Agencies we NEED on Twitter:

  • FBI
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • DHS
  • Tucson Police Department

… LOL yeah I won’t hold my breath.

Any feedback, comments or updates on this entry? …Post a comment below!

  • magdalena

    I am running a class for Law Enforcement Public Information officers on November 10, 2008 in huntsville Texas. need a good speaker on social media/blogs.tweeting,for law enforcement etc. 2-3 hr block; interested?

  • Joe


    I’ll respond back to your request via e-mail.


  • Tom Gerace

    Interesting post. I am a Lt. in a mid-sized agency and am thinking about composing a proposal for submission to my boss about this. Any additional info?

  • Joe

    Tom Gerace :

    Interesting post. I am a Lt. in a mid-sized agency and am thinking about composing a proposal for submission to my boss about this. Any additional info?

    Thanks, Tom for dropping by my blog. I have a few suggestions, but I could probably tailor it more specific to your needs. Feel welcome to shoot me an e-mail at joemanna AT

    Pros of Police Twittering:
    – Community service, goodwill. Alerting to quadded intersection, severe crimes, road closures, safety alerts, potential widespread alerts.
    – Addressing concerns/questions from media and citizens. (One-to-many, not one-to-one)
    – Input for emergencies (may require Twitter HQ support); could support txt msg input for emergencies from citzens via Twitter. Twitter is growing rapidly in colleges, universities and technology corridors nationwide.
    – Posting announcements like promotions, auctions, charities, FOP drives, etc.
    – Connecting with citizens – it’s generally a good idea to offer a way to connect with your citizens, emergency or not.

    Cons for Police Twittering:
    – Expectation mismatch (can be addressed in bio).
    – Inaccurate info posted (place trained staff on the Twitter responsibility.)
    – Twitter system dependency, could go down under high load. (but getting more reliable lately.)
    – Communication mismatch between Press Releases and Tweets. Could be aligned, but will take some effort.
    – Citizen-posted complaints on officer abuse. (Taser, beating, miranda, etc.) May require content to be subpoenaed. (Unsure)

    That’s really it from where I sit. I think any police department, large or small who Tweets is doing the right thing to better communicate with the citizens. No matter what, Twittering is a serious responsibility, as many reporters are dialed into than more than police frequencies. One mis-tweet could cause a media frenzy or panic; so it should be handled securely.

    Thanks again for your comment. Let me know if there is anything I should provide.


  • Tom Gerace

    Just a few thoughts that have cropped up since I presented this proposal to my Capt:

    -The general concept and the fact that its low to no cost was very attractive.

    -The first issue we face is deciding who is going to be responsible for administration and update of the account along with what will be broadcast.

    -I dont see Twitter in its current state to be reliable enough to be a true “emergency notification system”. Before a dept is going to announce that people can call for service or help over this service there will have to be some assurances regarding its reliability. That announcement alone implies some sort of responsibility and possible liability for a department.

    -The issue of allowing people to forward complaints and information over this service is a bit problematic. If there is an issue with an officer or a general complaint, a person should be going in person to the dept (or calling direstly) for service. A virtually anonymous post over an internet service is rife with the possibility of false accusations and pranks.

    With hunting season going on and the Holidays so close, I dont forsee any immediate action on this issue. I will be keeping up on it as things settle into the new year.

  • Joe

    @Tom Gerace

    I totally understand your thoughts on the implementation of Twitter and Police Departments. It’s low-cost and this responsibility could be something that all public information officers (or their supervisors) should be using.

    Don’t get caught up in the tools themselves, it’s the holistic concept that law enforcement should be communicating openly and easily. Right now, that’s Twitter. Tomorrow, it will be something else. But if the concept of communicating openly is acknowledged, then it will be successful no matter what.

    I agree that Twitter isn’t reliable enough (nor has it been expected to be) reliable enough for emergency communications. However, I would not have its reliability preclude a department from pursuing a blog to notify citizens and cross-posting it on Twitter. Blogs with RSS are a great way to let people manage how they wish to receive alerts on anything department or regionally specific.

    I suggest to handle the intake of complaints/feedback with cooperation with Twitter. Perhaps shooting a support request to Twitter and see if they work with LEOs to provide IP addresses/hostnames and further identification of direct-messages. Complaints should be handled openly and never rejected. An example would be to have a complainant who cites an error in an officer’s actions over Twitter to ask for a phone number for call back to complete the necessary paperwork.

    A Twitter background is just as important as the messages. You could have an image with text advising people to Call 911 for help, and list out the non-emergency numbers. (The idea here, is to be helpful and not necessarily to cover one’s assets.)

    I hear your concerns and I’m glad you’re evaluating them. Let me know if you have any questions or if you want to connect with me one-on-one and I can help you propose these ideas to the department.

    All the best

  • PortsmouthPD

    Good evening! Great post! I am “the voice” behind @PortsmouthPD on Twitter.

    You bring up several points that are well taken and well received. I will try to address them in pieces.

    1. Emergency traffic on Twitter. NOT RECOMMENDED. We use it for dissemination of public information, bulletins of an informational nature and to put out links to our latest information on the website. While the Twitter account is monitored mainly during the day, I will sometimes monitor it on the off hours. But I am the only one.

    2. Response to questions. If I can generally refer them to the website for answers I will. Otherwise I will direct them to a telephone number to the unit best able to handle it. I will try to respond to all DMs and replies.

    3. Officer complaints, parking ticket complaints or any other complaints are NEVER answered on Twitter. I will always refer them to the appropriate unit within the Police Department via telephone, or email via the website (we try to protect our email addresses from spambots). Same with compliments. I refer them to the website to communicate initially through email or telephone numbers.

    I am open to questions either here or via our website (initially) from anyone wishing to discuss. Our contact page (which goes directly to my desk) is at

  • Joe


    Awesome! Thanks for your comments, PortsmouthPD! Glad to hear it’s working well for you. :-)


  • FBIPressOffice

    Joe, you can exhale now, we are here…Granted, we are still new and learning how…but we are here. Be patient with us..

  • Joe


    Thanks for the note. I appreciate taking the time to let me know. Due to the interest, I’ll probably port the list of all the social media law enforcement resources together.

    Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you have any questions. (Or DM me on Twitter — my account is @JoeManna.) 😉


  • Lewis Cartee

    As part of increasing public safety in our community in East Atlanta we are actually using Twitter to increase communication from citizen to citizen. The Twitter group is only used for emerging public safety situations in order to get as many eyes on the event as possible, or to warn members of, for example, a potentially dangerous situation to which they need to steer clear.

    I am a founding member of SAFE, Safe Atlanta for Everyone, and when creating our community wide watch program, SAFE Watch, we adopted this idea to use with our patrollers.

  • murmur55

    BE GOOD!… David Sirota: Turning the Camera on the Police – Truthdig

  • murmur55

    BE GOOD!… David Sirota: Turning the Camera on the Police – Truthdig