Tweet cops: Philly police ‘spearheading’ Twitter use by beat officers

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A screenshot of the Philadelphia Police Department’s official Twitter account. (Credit: Twitter / Philadelphia Police Department).

When Philadelphia police Det. Paul Guercio took to Twitter to ask followers for surveillance footage of the June 5 building collapse in Center City, he received a reply within 45 minutes.

Several hours later, the same user posted a link to a YouTube clip showing bricks raining down near 22nd and Market streets.

According to the Philadelphia Police Department‘s Manager of Digital and Social Media, Sgt. Eric Gripp, officers are increasingly using Twitter to amplify their reach, multiplying man hours and encouraging those who might not normally talk to police to respond with clues.

“I feel like a lot of information and tips we wouldn’t otherwise receive, we get through Twitter,” Gripp said.

“A lot of people are concerned about anonymity. People are afraid to be seen as, unfortunately, what some people see as ‘snitching to police.’ This way, people can contact us. It’s all anonymous and they can choose to use their name or not.”

Gripp is now spearheading the department’s use of social media, an initiative he said began in earnest in January 2012.

Under the system, all officers can submit through their chain of command requests to receive verified @PPD Twitter accounts.

When enough inquiries are amassed, groups of four to five officers meet at police headquarters for a four-hour Twitter training course reviewing the basic dos and don’ts of social media.

“The last class was about three weeks ago,” Gripp said.

“I believe we have five officers who came through, one of which was a chief inspector who is now our highest ranking ‘tweeter.’ I still feel silly saying that.”

The Philadelphia Police Department currently has about 36 registered “tweeters” – and it’s not just higher-ups who are getting into the game.

“A lot of other police departments are using Twitter to the scale that we are, though as far as those where individual officers out on the street level are using it, there are none that I’m aware of right now,” Gripp said.

“Certain departments will have certain representatives, usually commanders, but as far as officers out on the street, we seem to be spearheading that.”

Along with inspectors and district heads, there are more than a dozen Philadelphia beat cops on Twitter representing units as far-reaching as victim services, community relations, highway patrol and crime scene investigation.

Gripp said having users of all ranks is crucial to Philly police’s social media mission.

“Back in day, there was a cop on every corner,” he said.

“We want to think there’s still always a foot or beat officer residents can talk with about what’s going on. Unfortunately, that’s not always the way it is today, but if you have an officer you want to have a friendly engagement with, you can always do it through Twitter.”



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