ANNAPOLIS —More than 230 law enforcement organizations around the world participated in the first Global Police Tweet-a-Thon last Friday, including four in Maryland.
The Annapolis Police Department (@AnnapolisPD), the Baltimore Police Department (@BaltimorePolice), the Salisbury Police Department (@SalisburyPD) and the Prince George’s County Police Department (@PGPDNews), all began tweeting bright and early, using the hashtag #poltwt to mark the event.
Originally designed to highlight the use of social media by law enforcement, the 24-hour tweet-a-thon became a top 10 trending topic in the United States according to data tallied by web intelligence company, BrightPlanet.
“The overwhelming positive response is just the best thing,” said event organizer Lauri Stevens, an interactive media consultant and founder of LAwS Communications.
Stevens said the idea to organize a tweet-a-thon came to her a little more than year ago, after witnessing the way other agencies used Twitter to connect to the public and their fellow law enforcement officials.
She developed a model and used a social media group on LinkedIn to share her idea with police around the world. Each individual department then tailored the plan to fit its needs.
Annapolis Police Department Press Information Officer Det. Amy Miguez said she saw the event as opportunity to take her followers on a virtual ride-along.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in that,” she said. “[Ride-alongs] are always a way for someone to really gain an understanding of what we do. Not only going on the calls with the officer, but then just interacting with the officer and asking all the questions you wanted to ask.”
“But we can’t have 10,000 people doing ride-alongs,” she added. “We can’t have ride-alongs every day of the week for every officer, that kind of thing, and people don’t have the time to do that. But on Twitter it’s a way for them to get a little slice of it easily.”
With more than 2,200 followers on Twitter, including some gained during the course of the event, Miguez had a captive audience for sharing facts about the day’s patrol officer Kevin Freeman, a 13-year veteran of the department.
“I’ve gotten some messages from people,” she said. “I had people guess Officer Freeman’s nickname…’dapper,’ someone responded, or ‘I say Steve Urkel…,’ but it’s actually Jamie Foxx.”
And Miguez was not the only one who got creative with her tweets. BrightPlanet organized the ones they found most humorous, including:
#poltwt EPD McDonalds 4th & State. Drive through patron reporting no service for 5mns. No one at window. Concerned.;
— eriealerts (@eriealerts) March 23, 2013
— Vermont State Police (@VTStatePolice) March 22, 2013
Though lighthearted, Miguez said these types of tweets still serve a significant purpose. “I think some people just see the uniform when they see a police officer,” she said.
“I mean we have an officer from Nigeria originally. We have officers that have lived all over the country. We have a lot with prior military experience who have served their country in many different ways. But people might just see the badge, the uniform, have an opinion about us, but not realize we do have our own backgrounds and that kind of thing.”
The large police presence on social media however, did lead some Twitter users to wonder if was an appropriate use of time.
@paloaltopolice do you guys have anything better to do with your time
— Genghis Khan(@Leehas2xDees) March 23, 2013
Stevens said her initial goal for the tweet-a-thon was to increase the connectivity between police officers, but some Twitter users felt officers missed that opportunity completely, choosing to use the medium for attention and not for enrichment.
Colossal fail for #poltwt! Instead of talking to each other or public, officers took opportunity to act-out in their own “COPS” episodes!
— Anon GovernmentWatch (@Anon_GovWatchCA) March 23, 2013
More than 15,600 Twitter users tweeted with the hashtag, sharing information in 23 different languages.
“I do think there should be more police tweeting and using social media,” said Stevens. “And I think we’re going to see that. It’s going to be integrated into their everyday work. It’s the way people are communicating.”