Dallas PD Is Pushing Officers to Use Twitter

Categories: Crime

TwitterDeadBird.jpg
Generally speaking, the Dallas Police Department does Twitter pretty well. Helmed by a chief who uses it to live-tweet disciplinary hearings and set up lunch dates with reporters at Chili's, and who isn't afraid to drop a "cocksucker" every now and then, DPD's output is timely and detailed enough to keep the public informed and loose enough to have a sense of humor (see: Fruit Ninja-gate).

Now, the department is preparing to take its social-media engagement to the next level and delegate tweeting authority, currently the purview of Brown and the media relations department, to rank-and-file officers. WFAA's Rebecca Lopez reported over the weekend that supervisors "in almost every division -- including homicide and robbery -- have been asked to find officers who will voluntarily tweet."

See also: Dallas Police Chief David Brown Would Prefer Not to Be Called a "Cocksucker"

Whether this is a good idea depends how and in what situations officers will tweet. If it's a system like the one Seattle implemented in 2012, in which cops share neighborhood-level crime information, excepting sexual assaults and family violence, it is. If they're broadcasting pics of bullet-riddled corpses or nude selfies, not so much.

For now, DPD will only say that it wants "officers to be prepared to use social media to speak directly to citizens in the case of major critical incidents, like the bombings in Boston," which, one supposes, would require some amount of practice.

Already, though, police unions are crying foul. WFAA quotes a Dallas Police Association vice president, unnamed because he is undercover, who suggests that having officers tweet could jeopardize public safety.

"To be honest with you, I don't think the city leaders or taxpayers expect us to be tweeting when we should be arresting people," he says.

See also: Dallas Police Chief David Brown Refuses to Stop Live-Tweeting Cop Firings

The problem with that argument is that tweeting and arresting people isn't an either/or proposition. There is more than enough time to accomplish both, just as it's possible to both eat a doughnut and investigate a burglary. If a cop lets a murderer escape because he was live-tweeting the chase -- and we can't imagine that actually happening -- then he's a terrible police officer and probably too dumb to catch the guy in the first place.

It would be much better, we think, if the unions focused on helping DPD draft a social-media policy that addresses real concerns (respecting victims' privacy, withholding information that could jeopardize a criminal investigation) rather than telling ridiculous stories about how it's going to let bad guys go free.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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20 comments
bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

It's kind of funny to see Libertarian Republicans, who normally demand MORE openness from government, getting so very nervous when law enforcement officials start tweeting reports about what crimes are being committed... and by whom.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

You, know, twittering suspects may be better than shooting first.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Cant wait for the Chief to start using VINE!

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Bad idea.  Better: Hire a communications specialist to take officers' calls, who would then get the word out to the public in a professional manner. 

davidennman
davidennman

I am a professional photographer here in Dallas, working freelance for media outlets like AP. So I have to write this under a pseudonym.


I have a few concerns with this new tweeting policy, from a media standpoint...


1 - Yes, it makes no sense for an officer on the scene to put his hands in the air and tell everyone, Hey guys, I need a minute to tweet this.


2 - Over the weekend, the DPD asked media to NOT release the photos of two perps (one a rape suspect), due to fears of influencing other witnesses. So it's okay to tweet pics of an arrested perp??


3 - How can an officer edit a photo in his smartphone (or in the case of DPD, using iPads) to block a victim's bloody face??


4 - License plates - What if your spouse was in a horrible wreck, and the DPD tweeted the remains of the car with the license plate (since a flash will light it up) before you have been notified??


5 - Control issues - I stopped counting the number of DPD officers who take it upon themselves to offer me a colonoscopy with my own camera if I don't leave the scene of a crime/accident/arrest. Oh, they never heard of the Constitution right? While things are not as bad here as in Miami (read www.photographyisnotacrime.com), it's getting close. 


6 - PIO - The DPD has a team of Public Information Officers who are (cough) trained to talk to the media at an incident. They send out email blasts, they post photos to Facebook etc. There is no need to duplicate this effort with untrained officers on the scene.


7 - Control issues II - Does anyone see what I see: The DPD will make sure the only side of a story coming out from the scene of a crime / accident / incident is THEIR side. Media folks will soon be prohibited from being close to a crime scene (yes, they have been known to yellow-tape two blocks out). This is just an extension of that control.


Let's see what the DPD thinks of this list.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

The police unions are "libertarian republicans"?

Fire up the splifs, Dallasites!

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

How'd those,commas,get,there?

bmarvel
bmarvel

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Myrna -- any journalist will tell you that the chief job of a "communications specialist" is to prevent real communication. We depend -- grudgingly -- on them. But we seldom trust them.  

bmarvel
bmarvel

@davidennman  

I spent years covering cops in another city in the days before there were "public information officers." It was much easier to get accurate information quickly in those days. The imposition of a PIO and the gradual closing down of the police system to,press scrutiny has made the job much harder.

The possible abuses you cite can probably be headed off by some intelligent guidelines. At any rate this is a welcome and useful experiment in openness. If it doesn't work, it can be dismantled.

Finally, you have a legal answer to all those offers of a colonoscopy.  In ruling after ruling, courts have decided in favor of the photographer in these cop-camera encounters.  It will take a little courage and patience, but challenging in court such thuggish behavior by officers of the law will pay off for all photographers and, in fact, all citizens who choose to exercise their rights and take pictures.    

Rusticle
Rusticle

@davidennman 1-4 are easily fixed by not tweeting pictures. It's unlikely that they were planning on doing so anyway, because of the issues you bring up. 5. I'm not sure how this relates to Twitter. 6. As the article states, they want all officers to at least be familiar with how to use Twitter in a formal capacity. 7. You can easily solve this issue by removing your tin-foil hat.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@bmarvel  Billy, my true love, the police department is not a newspaper office.  Cops should not be yapping a lot of confidential information nor should they be using unprofessional and appalling language.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Myrna, like most lefties, is so accustomed to having news filtered through the proper liberal gatekeepers and self-censoring, she's probably apprehensive of reading raw, unclean words written by men with weapons.

Especially since, in her hairy SDS days, she probably called them "pigs" to fit in.

davidennman
davidennman

Your comment in regards to taking the thugs to court is appropriate and correct. However, the issue here is the loss of a chance to get that photo.


Yes, after enough lawsuits, the City/County/etc involved will have to give up, spending lots of money in the process. But that Kodak moment is still gone.


And I do not wear a tin foil hat - I have encountered every issue listed here on too many occasions to count. Dallas PD is not as bad as say Irving or even Richardson cops (the worse ones are in the Park Cities). 


But it's happening every day in one form or another.




bmarvel
bmarvel

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @bmarvelMyrna -- Neither should the police department be a system for withholding and spinning information, which without public scrutiny it can quickly become. 

I know of at least one instance when a police burglary ring was brought down because of individual reporter-on-cop contact (Denver, 1960s). Show me a department where reporters' access to cops is severely restricted and I'll show you a department where abuse can flourish unchecked.

 

bmarvel
bmarvel

@ruddski Those gatekeepers, ruddski, are as often "conservative" as they are "liberal." 

There is nothing inherent in the right (or the left) that makes for the free flow of information. It is in the nature of both sides to seek to control information. 

You would know that if your politics didn't get in the way of honest perception.

bmarvel
bmarvel

@davidennman How much is a "Kodak moment" worth,
daviddenman? 

Your fellow photographers have taken cops to court and pushed the bullies back across the line. Here and there police departments and law enforcement agencies have been required to issue guidelines to their own officers on the subject.

A quick investigation into your legal rights as a photographer will pay off. Google the subject. The web is full of useful information from lawyers who have stomped this particular abuse good and hard.

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