Police Detail Effort To Plug In Public

July 01, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Baltimore's police commissioner told members of the City Council on Tuesday evening that the agency is embracing technology and social media to spread the word about the city's crime fight but that there are a number of hurdles to overcome before police and the public are truly plugged in.

In the past few months, the Police Department has increased its presence on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook, and has recently wrapped up a trial run of a program that offered text and e-mail alerts about crime to residents in the Southeastern District. Those efforts come in addition to a crime-mapping program on the agency's Web site that allows residents to view general information about crime in their community.

"There's a huge demand for information now, and we're demonstrating our commitment to provide it," Frederick H. Bealefeld III testified.

Most of the alerts are sent out by the agency's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, who is notified of major crimes via the department's internal paging system and works to verify their accuracy. From his cell phone, he posts information on Twitter and Facebook all throughout the day and night. It is not uncommon for the spokesman to roll out of bed at 3 a.m. to "Tweet" about a shooting.

Bealefeld told the council that increasing such efforts could take money and manpower. But one of his biggest concerns is that some will assume nefarious motives or a cover-up if information is posted in error or changes during the course of an investigation.

The updates currently consist of only the most violent crimes, though that still provides a steady stream of notifications. Some say the information is sobering and sometimes downright depressing. On the department's Facebook page Monday, the agency reminded users to sign up for the department's Twitter posts. "And just why would I want my phone to go off every 22 seconds?" one man responded, referring to the number of violent incidents that require alerts.

When the department posted about a shooting the next day, one person wrote, "Here we go again."

"And the numbers keep going [up]," said another.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who has urged police to provide more types of information to the public, said confronting crime statistics is necessary if the city is to improve.

"You open yourself up to critics, but people who love the city and want to see the city safer and better, they'll take that information for what it is," she said. "We can't stop pushing for transparency."

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