Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas.

Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas.

Citizens with a Twitter account can now learn about police business – from downed trees to reports of someone with a gun – in more or less real time, Cambridge Police said today.

“This is something we’ve had in the works for a while,” Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said. “We believe strongly in the ability of social media to communicate with the public in a timely manner, and tweeting information about serious incidents will better inform our residents about what types of incidents police are responding to in their community.”

Previously, the department’s Twitter account (@CambridgePolice) was updated manually, mainly during normal business hours. Now, with the help of the Cambridge Emergency Communications Department, tweets can be sent 24 hours a day, seven days a week “as take place” when police get reports of certain types of incidents.

These tweets will consist of a time stamp, the type of incident, a street name and the words “report of possible” to indicate that the call to dispatchers may or may not be confirmed upon officers’ arrival, said Dan Riviello, director of communications and media relations for the department.

In October, the Seattle Police Department became the first in the nation to launch a similar program, using 51 hyperlocal neighborhood Twitter accounts to share crime data starting in October. Its Tweets-by-beat system reported everything except sex crimes and domestic violence cases on a one-hour delay – designed to prevent people “from learning about an investigation in progress and swarming over to gawk and perhaps interfere,” The New York Times reported.

“We won’t be tweeting every incident our officers respond to, as we don’t want to inundate our followers with information,” Haas said. “But serious incidents will now be shared with our followers on a short delay to allow officers time to respond to calls.”

The incidents that are tweet-worthy, according to a list on the department’s website:

  • Assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in progress
  • Armed robbery
  • Attempted armed robbery
  • Attempted robbery
  • Assault in progress
  • Bank robbery in progress
  • Carjacking in progress/larceny of a motor vehicle
  • Fight
  • Found child
  • Bomb threats
  • Kidnapping
  • Missing person or child
  • Larceny in progress
  • Person with gun
  • Robbery in progress
  • Street blocked
  • Tree down
  • Unarmed robbery

All calls for service and arrests will continue to be available in the log posted on the department’s website each business day.

Cambridge Police would like to remind residents that social media is not to be used to report crimes or emergencies to the police, Riviello said. The @CambridgePolice Twitter account will not be monitored outside of business hours, and those requiring an immediate response to a public safety issue should always dial 911.

Those interested in getting real-time tweets with crime and other information from the Cambridge Police Department should follow @CambridgePolice on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CambridgePolice.

This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.