When the Boston Police became the first police force to start using Twitter, they knew they weren’t going to be the last. Today, countless police departments are using the service, including the Manchester Police, Toronto Police and San Francisco Police to name a few.
But while there have been a few humorous moments, such as a man discussing the possibility of a zombie invasion with the Boston Police Department, it has also been very serious business for law enforcement.
Twitter has become a powerful new tool for police departments, both as a means to communicate quickly with the public and as a means to research and track illegal activity.
Most importantly, it’s a trend that seems to be growing as social media plays a larger and larger role in our lives.
Getting the Word Out
Police in Victoria, Australia are using Twitter this holiday season as a means to reach out to young people who will be on break from school, sending out safety videos and tweeting their activity. The idea is to reach out to college students in a medium that is natural to them, social networking.
However, everyday users have also benefited from the police using Twitter. For example, in New Orleans, police, in a partnership with the Department of Transportation and Development, tweet out road incidents and traffic updates to alert commuters, something very common in many cities.
Finally, police have also leveraged Twitter as a PR tool, such as when Manchester tweeted out their entire workload for a day to make a point about how much they do daily and what their job is really like.
However, Police have been using Twitter as a two-way street and aren’t just using it for public education but for actual enforcement.
Catching the Bad Guys
It isn’t just the police that have been using Twitter, gangs, for example, have used the service to plan their attacks and fights, prompting police in New York to monitor Twitter for such activity.
Twitter, along with other social networking tools, has also been popping up in prosecution of criminals as many take to the service to brag about their crimes only to have their accounts turn into evidence against them after an arrest.
Because of this, police in the UK, especially in tech-savvy London, are being trained in using Twitter and Facebook as a means to track criminals and gather evidence.
Social networking is increasingly replacing a lot of the footwork police had to do when tracking criminals and gathering evidence, making these services both a great boon for law enforcement and a bane for braggarts who end up behind bars.
Everyone needs to be aware that there is no privacy on Twitter, Facebook or other social media. What you put out there can be used against you, including by your boss, your spouse or, if appropriate, the police.
As social networking becomes a bigger part of our lives, it’s safe to say that the police will be stepping up their use of it as well, both as a means to get information to the public and as a means to track criminals.
It’s just another way that Twitter is impacting our lives, even for those who don’t actively use the service.