While I was “twittering” what I was having for breakfast one morning, I stumbled across police departments that use Twitter to keep their citizens updated on crime trends and other topics. I quickly went to my “Facebook” page to report my findings so all my friends would be privy to my discovery. I then found many police departments have Facebook home pages with bulletins of missing persons and wanted offenders. I immediately contacted all my “linkedin.com” associates to notify them of the social media wave, and finally “blogged” about it on my Google blogger domain site. An airplane was not readily available for me to attach a banner in hopes of spreading my message but the more I thought about it, the airplane would not be able to provide the instant gratification for which I was looking.
Surely I jest about the airplane but there is no joking about the rapid acceleration the information age has taken. Immediacy in news reporting is the new trend and we want to watch the story unfold in real time. Words like Twitter, Facebook, and other “social media” are rapidly replacing having to hover around the television to watch the news or wander to the end of the driveway to gather up the newspaper. Instead, my iphone alerts me to a new topic on Twitter and I find out within seconds the outcome of an Illinois Appellate Court case. Front page headlines are being replaced by updates on Twitter (known as “tweets”). In fact, “mainstream” media (TV, newspapers, radio stations, etc.,) were warned of this impending technology decades ago and chose to ignore it. By not jumping on the bandwagon, many outlets have gotten run over— hence the stories of their bankruptcies and other financial ills we often read or hear about, ironically enough, on social media sites! In one sense, I am saddened that newspapers are at risk of obsolescence. There is nothing like sipping coffee on a Sunday morning while passing around sections of the newspaper. In contrast, I am addicted to real-time news and information and am tethered to the electronic devices that provide it.
Policing is no different. We have all heard of the gaper’s delay that slows traffic whenever emergency lights illuminate a thoroughfare. Human beings have an inherent need to know about events happening around them – even when it has no direct effect on their lives (that’s a nice way of saying the people are nosey). It is that very reason social media so popular. Now when you see the red and blue lights, you can put it on Twitter to get the information out. (Of course, you should never “tweet” while driving!) This is precisely why police departments are dipping their toes in the social stream— because it solidifies partnerships with the citizens they serve. Conversely, the citizens not only receive information that is useful to them, but know the source is credible.
About a year ago, the Aurora Police Department joined Citizenobserver.com to give our residents the information they desire. The site allows Aurora Police to quickly disseminate news on specific criminal cases, wanted fugitives, crime trends, and other alerts to anyone that signs up to receive them. While those that have subscribed number well into the hundreds, we would like to see that number swell into the hundred-thousands. Quite frankly, we could not have reached 30 year crime lows without interaction from our community and in order to continue this success, we need our citizens to keep partnering with us. Sign-up takes about a minute. Just go to citizenobserver.com and it will guide you through. You can even get the messages sent to a cell phone or pager.
Resistance is futile because only the Internet can keep up with constant flow of information. Oh, and you can find out what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow by following me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/Lt_KZ.