NYPD holds ‘common sense’ course on social media

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The NYPD 122nd Precint's Twitter page. (Twitter)
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Last week, the New York Police Department held a three-hour training session for officers on how best to use social media.

Billed as a “refresher” course for 25 precinct command officers, the session at John Jay College boiled down to one key concept: “common sense,” according to Martha Norrick, director of Citizen-Workforce Engagement and Mobilization for the NYPD.

The course came a few months after the department asked Twitter users to post images of New York police with the hashtag #MyNYPD, in what was meant to be a feel-good, crowd-sourcing effort to tout the department's good works, but resulted in a deluge of unflattering images, mostly of police involved in heated altercations.

The "common sense" course also came a week after a Harlem precinct captain apologized for taunting a safe-streets advocate on Twitter following the death of a woman who was hit by a subway train in Union Square. (The initial tweet came from the commander's personal account, but a subsequent reply was from the precinct. Both have been deleted)

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But those "stumbles" haven't stopped the NYPD from embracing social media. In fact, they’re forging ahead: 25 NYPD command officers have Twitter accounts (more than 50 more are expected by years end), and the department is using Facebook to publish article-length accounts of news events.

The recent refresher session touched on “using Hootsuite for precinct commanders, to help them schedule tweets,” searching for neighborhood names in their precinct, “making sure you’re taking other people,” and “making sure their content is localized,” according to Norrick.

The ultimate goal is to connect the police with the public, and share information that could be useful, she said. As a test, officers were shown “two different pieces of content and asked which one would be shared more.” For example, Norrick said, “missing person tweets that include an image of the missing person are shared more than tweets that don’t.”

Norrick said the department plans to use social media to help promote National Night Out on August 5, when police precincts across the country host evening gatherings with local residents, and then to foster those offline connections throughout the year.

“You come away with additional ways to connect with their local precinct instead of just once a year with a hot dog,” she said. But opening those doors can lead to more nuanced, and complicated conversations that aren’t ideal for 140-character bursts. “It opens a dialogue, but sometimes conversations online can talk past each other so we want them [officers] to focus on providing the most valuable content as possible,” Norrick said of Twitter. In other words, the department will favor news you can use, over complicated explanations of police policies.

The department's use of social media also provides an opportunity to show off a lighter side of policing, emphasizing the neighborhood connections between officers and residents.

Last month, the NYPD lent one of its vehicles for a slam-dunk competition, featuring a Staten Island man wearing a shirt that said, “R.I.P. Eric Garner.”

Other examples of official NYPD tweets with some personality: