Imagine you’re driving down Main Street and get a message from local police that they’re looking for a neighborhood burglar who took off in a black coupe with tinted windows. Imagine you see that same car stopped at a light. With a simple 911 call, you might help police catch a criminal.
New Jersey’s State Police have evolved into a cutting-edge operation, so it’s no surprise that they have joined several counterparts worldwide — and in North Jersey — on Twitter.
But Twitter has also caught on with several forward-thinking agencies in local towns. The list of tweeting police departments everywhere is growing, with Hasbrouck Heights and Fairfield among North Jersey’s pioneers. Even the Oradell Fire Department is tweeting.
(Back in my newspaper days, we always had to include an “explanatory graf,” for those unaware of the subject. So if you’re already familiar with Twitter, please jump past the following paragraph.)
Twitter lets users send text messages to a mass audience of followers in 140 characters or fewer; the “tweets” can be read online or on a mobile phone immediately.
Some departments alert motorists to traffic problems or offer security tips. Others provide updates on major situations — school evacuations or lockdowns — that could affect masses of people.
It’s quicker — and, in some cases, more reliable — than Reverse 911.
“FBIPressOffice” on Twitter continues to attract followers, particularly among law enforcement agencies. During President Obama’s inauguration, the bureau kept them updated on checkpoints and closed subway stations.
Authorities acknowledge the risk of social media as a source of vital information that could go viral. For one thing, anyone can pretend to be a cop and cause an unnecessary scare that could hurt someone (Of course, once that person is caught, the penalties would be severe).
N.J. State Police originally intended to tweet for media purposes — “but now that we’ve created the monster, I guess we’ll have to feed it more often,” joked Sgt. Stephen Jones.
Turning serious, he admitted that Twitter is “a great tool as long as it doesn’t drive us nuts.”
“The mobile phone and Internet technologies have raised expectations for us to get stuff out quickly,” the sergeant explained. “(But) accuracy takes time.”
Tweeting isn’t a substitute for mainstream methods of delivering important information, Jones added. It’s just another law enforcement tool that, once refined, can become extremely handy.
Besides, anyone concerned about the validity of a tweet can always call or e-mail the particular department involved.
A message to those police departments in North Jersey who are using Twitter, or are about to use it:
Tweet or follow me @JerryCRIMEX.
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