Though the Baltimore Police Department has maintained a Twitter page (@BaltimorePolice) for five years, the organization has recently faced some challenges with how it’s alerting its 40,000 followers to criminal activity.
“The concern is balancing the public’s need to know and the ability to do so in real time,” says spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk. He explains that they’ve had to retract tweets because of misinformation. “In the first hour, the information flow is not 100-percent accurate. To meet the real-time expectation, we get notified, and we’ll tweet it out right away. But, if you continue to recall shootings, you’ll lose credibility.”
The department debated whether to delay the reporting of non-fatal shootings, but, in early October, it was decided to continue reporting as is. “There’s always a process where we look at ways to improve,” Kowalczyk says. One way the department is getting creative is nationwide “tweetalongs,” where officers tweet in real time and post pictures from the scene. “Overall, this kind of transparency is a good thing,” he says. “Whether it’s an officer walking the beat or using their BlackBerry, it’s another way to engage the community.”