This story was updated at 2:38 p.m., Dec. 5, 2012.
Prince George’s County residents got a closer view of police work as they viewed photos via Twitter of a replica handgun and body armor recovered from a convicted felon and they followed the near-live updates with tweets such as “thanks for cleaning up the streets!!” and other lines of appreciation.
This was the type of interaction exchanged on Twitter during the county police department’s first ever Tweet-Along.
The virtual ride-along, or #PGPDTweetAlong, was a Twitter-based police event that paired department media relations director Julie Parker with a police officer to tweet the happenings in their day in a near real-time manner, informally showing residents what officers face on a day-to-day basis — and department officials now are looking toward future events.
“What you’re doing is showing your community what their tax dollars are going toward,“ she said of the Nov. 14 initiative. “It says, ‘This is what your department is doing for you on a daily basis.’”
Tweets during the event were centered around an officer in the Special Assignment Team, which investigates repeat offenders and reoccurring crimes such as auto thefts. Parker said she followed an SAT officer to give residents a look at a different division other than the patrol bureau.
Prior to the event, the department’s Twitter profile had 4,193 followers. As of Dec. 4, their following increased to 4,415. Many residents following the session posted tweets saying things such as “Good job,” “This is awesome” and “Quite glad for this #PGPDTweetAlong right now [because] my work day is going quickly.” Some followers commented by saying the department was giving out too much information that could jeopardize the safety of officers, but Parker said tweets were sent out roughly one hour after the fact to ensure officer safety and all tweets published were approved by the superior officer she was observing.
Parker, who has been the department’s media relations director since 2011, said the Kansas City Police Department was the first law enforcement agency to conduct a Tweet-Along. The Kansas City department has 16,944 Twitter followers as of Tuesday.
Although he did not tune into the session, Phil Lee, president of the Kettering Civic Federation, said this is an excellent way to reach the community.
“It shows that the police department is looking at innovative ways of reaching the community,” he said. “We’re always asking the community to do more and now we’re seeing the police doing a little more. Social networking, it’s the future. We have to learn to utilize it in very positive ways.”
Police Chief Mark Magaw said social media has made PGPD a national leader in social media law enforcement.
Parker was one of the four panel members on how to use social media in law enforcement at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference held in October in California. Magaw said she was invited due to the department’s growing media relations division and use of social media and the web. He said the other three were from the West Coast.
Magaw said the new Tweet-Along initiative ties into his call for open communication and transparency.
“Everything is about relationships and communication is a part of that. If residents understand what our job entails, the better we are and it gives people the understanding and reaches the whole piece of communication” he said. “We’re just getting started in social media.”
Following the PGPD Tweet-Along, Parker said she received a call from a public information officer from a law enforcement agency in Warner Robins, Ga., asking for suggestions and tips on how to conduct such an event.
An additional Tweet-Along event looked at police operations at FedEx Field in Landover during a Washington Redskins football game Monday.
The Monday night Tweet-Along noted that police assisted with four arrests and 21 ejections for public intoxication and disorderly conduct throughout the Redskins game. Many followers remarked on the updates regarding arrests and stadium ejections and thanked the department via Twitter for providing the information as the game progressed.
To follow the Prince George’s Police Department on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/PGPDnews.