- Contact Name: Sergeant Christopher Cook
- Contact Phone: 817.459.5333
- Contact E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Date: 1/15/2013
The Arlington, Texas, Police Department (APD) serves a 100 square mile community which is situated between Dallas and Fort Worth and is home to approximately 380,000 people. APD has 640 sworn officers and 210 civilian personnel and they are extremely active in the social media realm. Their Twitter bio provides a great summary of what they offer: “Tweeting APD news, public safety information, traffic alerts, guest & fan experience, and home to renown tweetalongs.”
When staff first proposed a “tweetalong,” many people laughed at the term. However, the term is now ingrained in the vocabulary of many law enforcement agencies throughout the world. A tweetalong is essentially a virtual ride along that uses tweets, or messages sent via Twitter, to communicate with followers. The first APD tweetalong featured the Chief Theron Bowman riding along with a DWI enforcement unit. The chief tweeted about his experiences, highlighting the activities of the DWI unit.
APD’s public information staff consists of two sworn staff – Sergeant Christopher Cook and Officer Zhivonni McDonnell. They use that status to their advantage, by taking tweetalongs into their own hands. Instead of highlighting a single officer during a shift, the PIO team touches on the work of many officers, highlighting different types of calls and experiences. This ends up being an educational experience for the public, as the PIO team will often choose calls that they can expand on. It builds legitimacy within the community and speaks to the transparent nature of the organization.
The tweetalongs have been increasingly popular, and APD has seen an increase in their followers on social media. In the past year and a half, APD’s followers have increased from 600 to close to 6,000. In addition, there has been increased engagement with more people submitting tips and sending positive feedback. APD now does tweetalongs twice a month to sustain their community involvement.
After a few successful tweetalongs, the idea of joint tweetalongs emerged. The idea simply started with a conversation between APD and the Baltimore, Maryland, Police Department. They decided on a time and went over protocols, in particular, each agency would retweet the other’s calls for service. This proved to be fascinating and education for both agencies’ followers. It allowed each community to have some perspective of their own community by seeing what types of events were happening across the country. It also showed there are no boundaries to law enforcement partnerships. The joint tweetalong idea has built valuable relationships and camaraderie among the staff in the various agencies. APD now has conducted joint tweetalongs with the Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department and has future plans with the Richmond, Virginia; Tampa, Florida; and Las Vegas, Nevada, Police Departments.
By using tweetalongs and regularly posting content, APD allows their citizens to feel like they are part of a team. This empowers the citizens and ultimately makes Arlington, Texas a safer place to be. The tweetalongs are a great supplement to APD’s overall social media strategy which uses written content, pictures, and video. These combined initiatives allow APD to tell their story and that of their community.
One example of how APD has used social media to tell their community’s story occurred back in April 2012. A young boy in Arlington had been diagnosed with leukemia. His wish was to be able to fight crime. APD knew there was something they could do to help fulfill this wish. They put together scenarios and took the boy out with APD officers allowing him to fight the bad guys. APD used photos and videos to tell this story and pushed it out using only their social media platforms. The video was viewed over 250,000 times. These videos show the human side of the department and show just one of the many ways their personnel serve the community behind the scenes.
APD staff spoke to the importance of a strong social media strategy for law enforcement agencies. First, those in charge of an agency’s social media presence need to communicate with command staff. Part of APD’s success has come from the monumental support they have received from the agency’s leadership. While there are certainly some risks involved with social media use, they are outweighed by the numerous benefits, and APD command staff appreciates that fact. APD also spoke to the fact that social media is a great, low-cost option for public relations and branding. If an agency doesn’t tell their story, someone else will tell it for them. By using social media effectively, agencies are able to tell the story of their agency, their officers, and their community.