"Reminder: Don't use Twitter to report crimes," noted Sgt. Tim Burrows on the @TorontoPolice feed last Sunday, accompanied by a ping to reformed gossip blogger Perez Hilton.
The social media officer cleverly referenced an incident that surely faded in the brains of anyone concerned with the MuchMusic Video Awards. Three years earlier, when Twitter was just catching on, Mr. Hilton used the service to tell police to come to his aid at the hotel where he was staying after an entourage with a member of the entourage of the Black Eyed Peas.
Perez has moved on to hosting nightclub parties put on with the hopes that other nominally famous folk will show up for a hug.
Concurrently, the Toronto Police Service launched a social media strategy and a related training program. But the emphasis has been squarely placed on putting a face on its community relations.
Moreover, any assumption that an officer is willing to engage through these platforms might be the wrong one. Glancing at the official list of authorized TPS Twitter accounts, which currently numbers 282, approximately one-third have abandoned any effort to refresh their feed. Some never got beyond acknowledging that they were setting it up as part of a three-day training program. Several hacked with weight-loss spam never bothered to delete it.
TPS does now invite official digital reports about lost property, crimes over $5,000 and traffic complaints. A page has recently been created for the uploading of photos or videos related to the recent homicide at the Eaton Centre — which can be submitted anonymously. But the overriding message of its social media strategy is not take it to seriously lest something remain unheard. ("Account isn't monitored 24/7" reads the regulation disclaimer.)
No one would be surprised to learn that police now constantly turn to Facebook to catch criminals or locate a suspect. Such a trail of details helped identify rioters last year in Vancouver and in the U.K.
While detectives boast about how they often verify suspects this way, though — like in a recent feature from the Detroit Free Press — there is no accompanying indication about how police follow-up on a call for assistance only expressed through a status update.
Facebook has just published an elaborate infographic that answers the question, "What Happens When You Report Something?" Toronto Police Service might be doing what they can — essentially using social media to tell people to pick up a phone — as another disconnect between authority and technology continues to linger.