At 9:37 last Saturday night, as dozens of cops struggled to control an unruly crowd at the Inner Harbor after two teens were stabbed in fights, this is what the police put up on Twitter, the Internet site that city cops now use as one way to alert residents to breaking crime: A promo for a television station's soon-to-be aired report on the commissioner's "fight against bad guys with guns."
Later that night came tweets for a double shooting in a Southwest Baltimore drug neighborhood, an arrest in a chilling murder-for-hire scheme and, the next day, an alert that a former Oriole was giving the department $125,000.
There was no mention of the disturbance at the city's premier tourist attraction, of the stabbings, the arrests, the crowd described as "unprecedented" for its size, of unsupervised and intimidating youths running through the attraction, and, that as late as 10:30 p.m., officers were diverting people off the waterfront promenade, effectively shutting it down.
The lack of information fueled rumors that gunshots had been fired, that Bloods and Crips gangs were fighting it out amid the tourists, that a scared couple clutching their children were banging on the locked door of a restaurant begging to be let in and out of harm's way, that cops fired pepper spray to regain control. One poster noted on this newspaper's Internet site: "So what's up, another cover-up of Tombstone on the bay?"
I was told early on that the fight, labeled a stabbing, did not meet the criteria for a tweet on Twitter, reserved for shootings and homicides.
I would argue that any incident that requires a large-scale emergency police response to such a large gathering, be it the harbor, the ballpark, the race course or even a weekend festival at a park, should be made public - in part because the public already knows that something happened, and in cases of public safety, ignorance is not bliss.
Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, agrees, saying that had he known the severity of the problem - it was not deemed serious enough to even be put out on pagers carried by commanders - he would have not only Tweeted the incident but sent a spokesman to help answer questions.
Julia Orbino, who was waiting tables at Tir Na Nog Irish Bar and Grill, watched the event unfold from a second-level balcony. She said she saw girls fighting, cops wading into the hostile crowd and getting into skirmishes and women in handcuffs lined up on benches. "Everything else," Orbino told me, pausing and shrugging her shoulders, "is rumor, speculation."
All the more reason to get out information quickly and accurately.
Police, along with everyone else, are struggling to adapt to new technology and use it wisely. I don't begrudge the cops for promoting a favorable TV show and the department getting a nice check. And certainly not every stabbing can be Tweeted without overwhelming the public.
So what crime is Twitter-worthy?
Over the weekend, city police quickly informed you that a man had been killed on South Smallwood Road and that two teens had been shot on Normount Avenue. But I bet what you wanted to know was what happened at the Inner Harbor on Saturday, and it took until Monday afternoon and prodding by a reporter to get the information.
I'm heartened that Guglielmi concedes the omission was a mistake - he told me that what happened at the Inner Harbor "was Twitter-worthy," which he defines as a "significant event that affects the public."
Twitter is a helpful, worthwhile tool, and police using it to spread crime news signals a new, open era by departments historically reluctant to part with such information. But it's also a tool of the government, packaged and distributed by police, run by City Hall, where elected politicians have a vested interest in keeping crime stats low.
At least with the Internet and cell phone alerts, they are finally beginning to realize that keeping a crime quiet doesn't mean the crime didn't occur.
The use of Twitter and other ways of keeping the public informed should be expanded. If it is used only as a public relations tool, people will see right through it.