VPD Twitter Erodes Sensitivity

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Yesterday the Vancouver Police Department tweeted every call made to police on Twitter with the goal of educating the public. The tweets included everything from the interesting to the mundane, and some were highlighted by the writer’s own commentary. However, many of the tweets included personal commentary that, at a second glance, doesn’t help the nature of police work, and it looks like the VPD took a page from Greater Manchester’s own play book.

Just two months ago Greater Manchester Police set up a high profile campaign to tweet every police call that the department received. Not only did the campaign receive news coverage in the UK, but it also was well-publicized in North America. The purpose behind the campaign was very clear: government cutbacks were expected to reduce the quality of service and the GMP needed to persuade the public that the force was just more than “cops and robbers”.

Fast-forward to December 9th, and the VPD tweeted every police call of the day. The Vancouver Police stated that the goal of the project was to educate the public about everyday police work, but the quality and purpose of the campaign completely eroded the sensitivity of their work. The commentary added to some tweets included, “is there a full moon tonight?” and “I’ve had a lot of chuckles today. I’m just telling it like it is…”

At first glance this light-hearted approach can be perceived as entertaining, but if you’re familiar with social marketing – the traditional type, not the new “social media” type – this approach will defeat the original, educational goal of setting up a police Twitter profile. What most of the public does not understand, is that police officers are more than just crime fighters. Police are extremely useful for peacekeeping, solving family issues, and getting help for those who are emotionally sick or need other forms of help. “Mental health problems” is a sensitive phrase because it can be misinterpreted as derogatory or mischievous, and the VPD need to be careful that they do not allow their Twitter account turn into a form of entertainment. Instead, they can accidentally establish the social norm that police calls are “crazy” and “entertaining”.

The Greater Manchester Police Twitter campaign sent a very strong message to the UK government: the number of calls to police are overwhelming and are socially important. It took four separate Twitter accounts tweeting at a rate of 1 tweet per 30 seconds to blast out all of the day’s events, and a huge number of those tweets were related to finding runaway family members and assisting the mentally ill. There was no personal commentary, and almost all calls were reported in the exact manner they were occuring. At the end of the day, the public didn’t see Manchester Police’s tweets as entertainment but instead they saw the real value of police work.

The Vancouver Police need to revisit their strategy on Twitter, and ensure that their own profile doesn’t turn into a form of entertainment. You can compare the Twitter profiles of both police departments at http://twitter.com/vancouverpd, http://twitter.com/gmp24_1http://twitter.com/gmp24_2, http://twitter.com/gmp24_3, http://twitter.com/gmp24_4, and http://twitter.com/gmpolice.

Photo credit: Michael Francis McCarthy

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