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
International

Hurricane Odile batters Mexico's Baja resorts, sparks looting

Hurricane Odile injured dozens of people, forced the evacuation of thousands and smashed shops open to looters in the popular tourist area of Baja, Mexico.

National

Apple iPhone 6 pre-orders hit record 4 million…

By Lehar Maan(Reuters) - Apple Inc said many customers will need to wait until next month for their new iPhones after a record 4 million…

National

LAPD investigates complaint from detained 'Django' actress

The LAPD is investigating after "Django Unchained" actress Daniele Watts accused police of violating her rights when they detained her.

Local

Number of New York City smokers increase, topping…

For the first time since 2007, there are  more than one million smokers in New York City, according to the New York City Department of…

Movies

Newsflash: Corey Stoll is still not a man

In director Shaun Levy's "This Is Where I Leave You," Corey Stoll stars as the oldest of four adult children (the others are played by…

Movies

If you don't like Simon Pegg's new film,…

Simon Pegg goes all out in "Hector and the Search for Happiness" as the titular psychiatrist stymied by modern life who embarks on a globetrotting…

Arts

Art in Chelsea: Don't miss these 3 galleries

We selected three sure bets for seeing cool art in the galleries of Chelsea.

Music

Robin Thicke blurs lines further with new 'Blurred…

"The reality is," said Robin Thicke about "Blurred Lines" in a court deposition, "Pharrell had the beat and he wrote almost every single part of the song."

NFL

Tom Coughlin says Giants 'beat themselves' against Cardinals

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had a day to cool off and reflect, still sounded like he had a gnawing feeling in his gut.

NFL

Marty Mornhinweg accepts blame for Jets timeout fiasco

Jets fans looking for a scapegoat for Sunday’s timeout fiasco found a willing party on Monday: Marty Mornhinweg.

NFL

3 things we learned in Jets loss to…

The wheels came off for the Jets, who gave up 21 unanswered points after a brilliant first 20 minutes in a 31-24 loss at the Packers.

NFL

Victor Cruz catches case of the drops in…

The Giants dropped a tough, 25-14, decision to the undermanned Cardinals Sunday in their home opener. And drop was the operative word of the day,…

Travel

World's most hipster cities: Top 5

Travel blogger Adam Groffman tells us his picks for the Top 5 most hipster cities in the world.

Education

The top 5 regrets recent high school grads…

College application season can seem like a blur for many students - as test prep, campus visits and filling out a seemingly endless stream of…

Parenting

Tech execs tend to limit their kids' screen…

You probably got your iPad before Bill Gates's kids did.

Wellbeing

Wellbeing: Daybreaker returns, Ray Rice jersey trade, Sweet…

  Now that Ray Rice is no longer with the Baltimore Ravens — or any other NFL team — after video footage surfaced showing him…