They've been trained to shoot, schooled in criminal law and tasked with fighting bad guys.

Now they're trying to master the art of the tweet.

 

Within the past month, about a dozen superior officers of the Boston Police Department's command staff -- mostly superintendents and deputies -- set up individual Twitter pages and started tweeting.

Having individual officers tweet is a rarity for departments of any size.

 

It was a directive from Commissioner Ed Davis, according to a tweet from Deputy Superintendent Steven Whitman.

 

Since taking control of the department more than five years ago, Davis has pushed his philosophy of community policing. Now the focus has seemingly shifted to Boston's online community.

 

A department spokeswoman said they are working on the details of their Twitter expansion and would have more details in the future.

Social media experts said it's the right move for the department.

"To have it just be a ... public information officer isn't what the citizens want," said Lauri Stevens, a Boston-area social media strategist for law enforcement agencies. "They want to hear from cops that they know. They don't want to hear corporate speak."

Stevens said social media training is vital because the tweets are seen as a reflection of the department.

What's also crucial, she said, is the interaction. BPD follows about 40 people, and Stevens said that number needs to increase so that there can be online community engagement and a successful Twitter conversation.

Emmett Folgert, the head of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, said he supports the initiative because youth are constantly on social media. "My young staff and I get texts constantly, and social media is a very important part of our work now," he said.

Lessons learned?




Experts said training the officers to use social media is crucial. That point is emphasized by a mistake made by another police department earlier this year.

A tweet was posted on the Twitter feed of the MBTA Transit Police that said "was going to bring 12 pack u need beer."

Police officials said it was a mistake by an off-duty officer who meant to send a text message before heading to a Super Bowl party.

[View the story "How tweet it is" on Storify]