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."
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.
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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.