UPDATE 11:01a: We have received a very well-argued response from Boynton police chief Jeffrey Katz. It follows this editorial in its entirety.
BOYNTON BEACH, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — The Boynton Beach Police Department today is promoting a new program: one of its officers will be providing a “virtual ride along” by tweeting what he sees and does during his Tuesday night shift. As anyone in media would, we support anything that creates transparency when it involves a government body — especially the police. However, we think officers Tweeting while on duty is a bad idea.
Police officers everywhere — especially in South Florida — have a dangerous job. They need to be aware of what’s happening around them. They need to respond quickly to emergency calls while dodging motorists who seemed to learn to drive in third world nations. Police officers need to see and be seen.
Professional law enforcement officers will tell you their most important tool is eye contact. Eye contact, however, will suffer if officers are looking down at their phones, Tweeting messages, and wondering whether anyone else is re-tweeting their latest traffic stop.
Then there’s the issue of what’s being said.
Could a 142 character Tweet compromise a case? All it takes is one Tweet referencing a “drunk” driver before a blood alcohol test is performed. We envision a defense attorney matching the “time of Tweet” — on Boynton’s official Twitter channel — to time of his client’s stop and having the arrest thrown out, arguing that the officer didn’t know if the driver was drunk or not at the time that he Tweeted.
When it’s time for lunch, officers should be looking around, not composing 142 character recaps of what they did. More importantly, in a profession where careers are based on performance, we are chilled by the thought that a patrol officer could be judged by how many Tweets he Tweets and what he Tweets, instead of how many speeders he stops or lives he saves.
Police need to police. They do not need to Tweet. While we commend Boynton Beach Police for an incredible act of transparency, we suggest that modern technology permits a better way to provide a “virtual ride-along” without impacting an officer’s most vital duties. Boynton could automatically Tweet out working calls or stream its dispatch channel on its website.
Boynton has one of the best media and community relations departments in all of policing. If there is a need for the department to Tweet, we encourage the department to use civilians to do the “Tweeting.”
In our opinion: for their own safety and the safety of everyone around them, officers need to have a trigger finger — not Twitter finger — ready at all times. There’s nothing virtual about the very real work we require and rely upon our police officers to perform every shift.
Response From Police Chief Jeffrey Katz:
“Community policing is about building trusting relationships and engaging our public in a mutual exchange of information. We keep citizens apprised of how we’re serving, and they learn to trust us enough to share their concerns. This establishes a symbiotic exchange that improves our responsiveness and humanizes those who serve. If it is acceptable for an officer to park, walk, and talk at a shopping center or community event, it’s equally acceptable for them to provide a brief update to our followers via social media. This is part of the evolution of community policing, and I’m proud that we’re on the cutting edge of this practice.”
Here is Boynton’s press release:
When Officer Ron Ryan goes “10-8” on the radio Tuesday afternoon, he’ll also let the Twittersphere know he’s on duty and ready for them to ride along.
Officer Ryan will tweet during his shift from 5:30 p.m. – 5 a.m., taking followers of @BBPD on a virtual ride along as he protects the residents of Boynton Beach.
He is the first of several officers trained by the Office of Media Relations to give the public a real-time inside look at police work via Twitter.
Ryan will tweet about the calls he responds to, things he observes throughout the shift, tips to keep residents safe, and some fun facts about himself. Users can ride with Officer Ryan using the hashtag #ridewithbbpd.
This initiative is the Boynton Beach Police Department’s latest effort to engage the community via social media. We are educating and informing the public, and giving them access to their local police department like never before.
For more information about the virtual ride along program, tweet us at @BBPD!