Some Good News From Police Chief Chuck Harmon

Now follow current police activity like homicides, bank robberies, shootings, major traffic accidents on Twitter at @stpetepd.

At Thursdays City Council meeting St. Pete Police Chief Chuck Harmon gave the normal run down of reports and crime statistics. Crime is down. Then he made a bit of a startling announcement.

The St. Pete PD, which has long had a Facebook and Twitter account that were mostly for show and not much substance, was going to use the Twitter account to inform citizens of current police activity.

In a world increasingly dominated by social media, you might think what's the big deal, but for this Police Chief this is a major move.

For the 5 years I managed the Police Department Information Technology operation, we slowly pushed for more access to police information. The chief, mostly supportive, was very cautious. Some in the community took this as a reluctance to share police information, but that was, for the most part, never really the issue.

The issue was the chief's very legitimate concern about how instant information access might affect the department's ability to police the community and officer safety.

Now, with almost 5 years experience with CRIME REPORTS, a system posting Police incidents directly from the police information data base, the chief has more confidence and more knowledge about how online information affects operations and public input.

Data on CRIME REPORTS is delayed about 4 hours, so when a bunch of St. Pete Police cruisers show up in your neighborhood, you cannot find out what is going on by checking CRIME REPORTS, and if no report is taken or the report is delayed it may be some time before the incident shows up on the CRIME REPORTS map.

That's where Twitter comes in. You can now follow current police activity like homicides, bank robberies, shootings, major traffic accidents at @stpetepd.

Don't expect to find a TWEET every time you see a police cruiser drive through the neighborhood.

Posting will be done from the Police Department Communications Center. Expect it to be pretty general, not a lot of detail, especially in the beginning. The Chief will move slowly on this new approach to information sharing watching the affect on operations and getting some public feedback.

The balance between the public's curiosity and need to know verses law enforcement's need to be effective and safe is a difficult struggle for any Police Chief. That is especially true for Chuck Harmon. He cares deeply for his City and his officers and does not want to do anything that will harm either.

If you have a Twitter account, just add @stpetepd to those you are following. If you don't have a Twitter account click on the link and set one up. Set up is quick and easy once you have an account add @stpetepd to those you are following.

Next time there is some activity in your neighborhood just check the Twitter account.

Be a little patient with the PD as they move into this. If you have some comments send me an e-mail and I'll get it to the right person at the PD

E-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net, or send me a Facebook Friend

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Judy Ellis February 11, 2013 at 09:11 PM
I don't Tweet and I don't know anyone who does. If putting out information about officers' calls is such a dangerous thing, how come they do it in Houston,Dallas, Chicago, Memphis, Clearwater, Tampa, Orlando and so on and so on and so on. This is very much about not sharing information - that is ALL it's about. The one thing the chief's concerns were not was legitimate. Are you telling me that the chief of police in Dallas sends his men out to be slaughtered on a regular basis? NEVER HAPPENED! Not there, not anywhere. This isn't good news; this is nonsense.
Doc Webb's Bay Post February 12, 2013 at 01:46 AM
Judy: I agree with you completely. But, the culture inside the St. Petersburg Police Department is what it is. You might have noted in my Post I mentioned that members of my team and I worked for five years to get the Department to the where it is in information sharing. There is no doubt that the St. Pete PD is Policing based on the 1990s as opposed to current practices. Your points are well made. It is pretty well documented that detailed information sharing is not harmful to police operations, but Police leadership has to buy into that argument and that has been a slow process in the St. Pete PD. Things you don't use, and don't understand rarely become your friend, and that is the case with social media and the St. Pete PD. The "good news" in all of this is Chief Harmon is taking a step in the right direction. Is it enough? Is it fast enough? Probably not. And by the way the Chief is not the only problem with social media at the PD. Here is how everyone can help. Follow the St. Pete PD on Twitter, @stpetepd and e-mail me or the Chief with your positive suggestions. Some gentle but firm pressure from the public will go a long way opening up the information flow. It did with Crime Reports. Thanks for the Comment Doc
Kurt Donley February 13, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Nice article Doc


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