Police, Fire Departments Use Twitter to Stay in Touch


Milwaukee, WI—Police in Milwaukee, and around the country, are using some high-tech tricks in their fight against crime.

Twitter, the social networking site, is already popular as a tool which allows celebrities and everyday people to update friends on their whereabouts or activities. Yet police and fire departments are increasingly finding it useful as an alert system for criminal or emergency notifications.

The site works by distributing short messages from a source, such as a law enforcement or public safety agency, to subscribers who have previously signed up to receive them. These messages, commonly known as “tweets” are 140 characters or fewer, by definition.

A recent tweet sent out by the Milwaukee P.D. read, “Latest homicide in the city is NOT a random act. Male, 33, shot in 1500 block N. 39. More details as we have them.”

Twitter has also been used by police departments to send out traffic updates, or to explain police presence in a certain neighborhood. Crime prevention tips are also sent as tweets. Additionally, information about more serious emergencies—bomb scares, lockdowns or evacuations, or fires—can be effectively disseminated through this high-tech method.

Because so many people are able to check their Twitter accounts or receive tweets from wireless sources, such as Blackberries or iPhones, the updates are particularly useful.

The Los Angeles Fire Department also employs Twitter, not only to broadcast information but also to receive it. Spokesperson Brian Humphrey, who is also a firefighter, uses keywords—among them “fire” and “LA”–in order to receive up to the minute information on wildfires surrounding the city or threatening nearby communities. He can then relay that information to the proper authorities.

Even the feds are getting into the Twitter act– the account “FBIPressOffice,” which is maintained by Special Agent Jason Pack, sends out tweets about missing children, computer worms, and fugitives. The FBI even used the account during the presidential inauguration, updating information about traffic, subway-station closings, and checkpoints.

Cities across the nation are learning about Twitter as a tool to help encourage public safety awareness and crime prevention. Other social networking sites, such as Facebook, are also being employed. Because of the real-time nature of Twitter, however, and the brevity of the messages—which can quickly and easily be read and understood, even on a mobile device—tweets are emerging as the front runner in this new technological-communications forum.


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