Spanish police get serious on crime using Twitter jokes

An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter on an Ipad, in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
Tweets by Spain’s popular national police force Twitter account have received as many as 10,000 retweets. Credit: Reuters

Spain’s national police force is using social network Twitter to track down criminals through jokey messages to citizens that has led to 300 arrests on drug charges in the past year and become a model for other forces worldwide.

The account, @policia, is on track to reach 500,000 followers this weekend and is the second biggest of any law enforcement agency after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Officers in Madrid handle 1,200 messages on the account in an average day and answer queries for 17 hours a day, giving it greater reach than any public or private Spanish institution.

Carlos Fernandez Guerra, a former journalist and the only member of the team who is not a police officer, writes all the account’s tweets, which have been retweeted up to 10,000 times, and shrugs off criticism that the tone is too light.

“We use language that is attention-grabbing, related to things that are being tweeted at the moment,” Fernandez, 39, explained in his office on the third floor of a police station in central Madrid.

Fernandez is behind messages such as: “Ah, a few beers on a terrace laughing with your girlfriends, watching the hot boys go past ;) Don’t take your eye off your handbag and your phone.”

He readily admits that not everyone in the police likes using humorous tweets to warn citizens about email and phone scams and to discourage teenagers from sexting, or sending racy photos to friends, which can be uploaded online and are officially classed as child pornography.

“Turn on the passion … SWITCH OFF the camera. NO TO SEXTING!” one tweet advised.

“Some people like it, some people don’t. There are some that want us to be more formal,” Fernandez said. “We are focused on the average citizen and what they will like.”

He set up the account in 2009, using it to post press releases, before deciding to expand the reach beyond media professionals. Now police forces in Latin America are using @policia as a model to reach citizens, Fernandez said.

While the police do not want people using Twitter to report emergencies, they do offer contact details to spot criminal activity, focused especially on drug and sex offenses.

Fernandez said in the past year more than 300 people have been arrested on drugs charges thanks to tip-offs; one criminal handed himself in after the police posted a message about him, and the force tracked down a British fugitive after 5,000 people retweeted that the police were looking for him.

Parodying the police account would be impossible, Fernandez said, especially when they themselves upload content like a video of police driving around Madrid to Bob Marley singing: “Bad boy, bad boy, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

“People couldn’t believe it. It’s quite a common question, ‘Is this a fake account?’”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

FDNY debuts new fire simulator for blazes at…

The New York City Fire Department christened its newest, state-of-the-art, custom-built simulator at its training academy on Randall's Island Tuesday.

Local

Bronx cop saves baby who stopped breathing

A Bronx police officer is credited with saving the life of a 2-month-old baby who stopped breathing Tuesday morning. Police Officer Johnny Castillo, 38, was…

Local

Brewer celebrates Women's Equality Day with voter pledge

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer celebrated Women’s Equality Day Tuesday by pledging to register at least five women voters before the Oct. 10 deadline. Brewer…

Local

NYPD looking for lewd D train rider

The NYPD is enlisting the public’s help to find a man they say performed a lewd act on the D train Saturday evening. The incident…

Television

'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 12,…

If you've wondered whether Ali and Bethany knew each other, you got an answer tonight: Yes, and in a very tangled way. But many lingering…

Entertainment

Cymbals Eat Guitars Have Everything to 'LOSE'

At its most basic level, a rock band can be thought of as a family, a group of people selflessly devoted to a cause. When…

Entertainment

"Bachelor in Paradise" recap: Episode 4, 'Week Four'

Some things are hard to watch in a “Human Centipede” sort of way. Other things in an “American History X” sort of way. Does “Bachelor…

Movies

Fall Movie Preview: 10 films to see this…

Despite being awards season, the next four months bring a glut of remakes, rehashes and sequels. Here are 10 that should be better worth your time.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

NFL

Dimitri Patterson suspended only for rest of preseason…

Dimitri Patterson ended up getting just a slap on the wrist.

Sports

Eugenie Bouchard excited for 'rowdy' fans at US…

Eugenie Bouchard is sure to endear herself to New York's tennis faithful as she tries to win her first grand slam title across the next two weeks.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Angels and A's still at…

MLB Power Rankings: Angels and A's still at top, Nationals climb

Wellbeing

Who is having the most orgasms?

  Single lesbians report having orgasms more often than heterosexual women but both gay and straight men still come out on top of the climax…

Home

Jonathan Adler shares his tips for a great…

Jonathan Adler took a break from boogie boarding at his beach house to tell us how to keep that Labor Day party festive.

Travel

Most popular Labor Day weekend destinations

Priceline.com released its Top 20 destinations for the end of summer, including Labor Day weekend. If you’re heading to any of these spots, expect a…

Wellbeing

Working your way to type 2 diabetes: Job…

When it comes to type 2 diabetes, a stressful job can be as risky for your health as a bad diet and no exercise. A…