Today’s guest post comes from Julie Parker, Director of the Media Relations Division for the Prince George's County, Maryland, Police Department. Responsible for media and public relations in a dynamic environment, Julie has incorporated the modern advances of social media in law enforcement that have created greater access, transparency, and accountability for the community and media. Julie serves as the PGPD's representative on the Crime Solvers, Inc. Board of Directors, a non-profit organization of community and business leaders that encourages greater community cooperation to close unsolved crimes. Before joining the department, Julie worked as an Emmy-award winning general assignment reporter and anchor for ABC7 News & NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C. market for 14 years.
For the first time, the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department, the 28th largest police department in the nation, held a virtual ride along called the PGPDTweetAlong. Armed only with an iPad, the Director of the Media Relations Division set out at 9:30 AM on Wednesday, November 14, with members of the District III Special Assignment Team (SAT); the sole mission was to inform the community of our crime fighting efforts and community interactions.
As we left the district station, we headed out to conduct directed enforcement in areas known for burglaries. Our agreement was I would vet any crime-related tweets through the lieutenant before tweeting and I would only tweet about criminal activity once we’d cleared the scene in order to protect the officer’s safety. Before long, we spotted a man walking down the street away from a townhouse complex that had been hit recently with daytime break-ins. He was carrying a large duffel bag and had a replica law enforcement badge around his neck. What we then found and tweeted generated some surprise from the community.
As the lieutenant patted down the suspect, he discovered a handgun replica bb gun, which had a painted-on silver accent, designed to make it look even more real. He also had on body armor (pictured above). Patrol officers came to the scene and took the suspect, a convicted felon, to the district station for processing as it is illegal for felons to wear body armor in Maryland. Off we went, back out on the streets for more police work and tweeting. Members of the Special Assignment Team take a proactive stance to policing: rather than wait for calls to go out and then respond to them, SAT teams target problem areas so even though it was technically a slow day for the SAT team, there was more than enough information to tweet. And reporters and regular followers of @PGPDNews seemed to enjoy the new endeavor.
While we were back out looking for burglary suspects, we caught one. Red-handed.
The suspect admitted breaking into his father’s apartment home in order to steal his Playstation video gaming system. This too, left the community shaking its head, though this kind of thing was hardly news to the SAT team members.
Not all the issues we encountered on our TweetAlong were crime-related. In this case, a driver had run out of gas on a busy six-lane highway. The PGPD SAT member got out and helped the man push the car safely onto a side street.
Our last call of the day was for a pedestrian struck on another busy county highway. The SAT team lieutenant helped manage traffic around the accident scene as paramedics tended to the injured patient.
There is no precise way to quantify the value in an event such as this, but strictly from an anecdotal perspective, it was highly productive and positive. @PGPDNews gained dozens of new followers as a result of the relevant content and the interaction with the community is priceless. Our department is now planning to do a TweetAlong on a monthly basis.