As social media is becoming ingrained in our society, the Philadelphia Police Department is on the frontier of its use in law enforcement. The PPD Media Relations Unit has incorporated several social media platforms to assist the Department in the release of important information and the dissemination of crime surveillance videos to our communities and the media. The nucleus for the Police Department’s presence rests in the “big three” of social media, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
The Department started using Twitter to micro-blog or “tweet” in September of 2009. The use of Twitter allows investigators to get out a small amount of information quickly, along with a short link providing the opportunity to find out more. There are currently over 5,300 followers of @Phillypolice, the Department’s official Twitter account.
In the summer of 2010, the official Philadelphia Police Department Facebook page was launched. Currently, there are over 38,000 people following this page, which makes it the most followed Facebook page of any law enforcement agency in the nation. The Department links all articles from the “News” section of its web site, Phillypolice.com, to its Facebook page to ensure that information is immediately available to the public, independent of the news media. Facebook often refers police departments that are interested in using their medium to the Philadelphia Police page as an example.
The Philadelphia Police Department’s YouTube channel made its debut in March of 2010. The Department began uploading videos of crimes in order to facilitate the capture of the dangerous offenders depicted in them. Police also provide links to these videos on the Police Department Facebook page. There have been more than 1 million hits to the Department’s YouTube channel which have resulted in an unprecedented 25% clearance rate. Growing from its YouTube presence, Philadelphia Police have also developed specialized training for its detectives. Digital Imaging Video Response Team (DIVRT) training was developed in conjunction with the Philadelphia office of the FBI. It provides investigators with the necessary knowledge to extract video from crime scenes and quickly get them to the public and media. DIVRT has been such a success that the FBI is currently trying to pilot the program in other parts of the country.
Social media reaches deep in to the daily lives of the public. It would be negligent for the police not to make use of this avenue to reach the people that we are empowered to serve. Meeting the public where they live, on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, is having an effect similar to putting officers in communities on foot patrol, it creates a partnership. This partnership is having a profoundly positive effect on how the Philadelphia Police Department conducts the business of law enforcement.