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Dallas police unveil new social media strategy, news site

The aim is for the social media sites to give real-time information, especially in the event of a mass casualty incident

By Tristan Hallman
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Dallas police officers could soon be following you — on Twitter.

Police officials, including Chief David Brown, unveiled the department's new online strategy Monday at police headquarters. Now, numerous officers will begin tweeting, and the department will run its own news website and Pinterest page.

The department has long had the plans in the works and settled on the new strategy with the help of a $43,000 communications consultant. Few other police departments have such a comprehensive social media strategy, said Shawn Williams, the community affairs manager.

The use of Twitter could be particularly controversial because of its potential for error. Some department officials, including Brown, already had Twitter accounts, mostly without incident. But Brown has also used profanity in one instance, and he caught flak for tweeting the name of a "person of interest" who was later cleared during the South Dallas serial rape investigation.

Williams said no officer is required to use Twitter — only volunteers. The department put many officers through a day of training last week to show them how and when to use social media.

The aim is for Twitter to give real-time information, especially in the event of a mass casualty incident. Police also hope to reach younger people who don't attend crime watch meetings.

That means officers could be tweeting from crime scenes, Lt. Max Geron said. But they'll be limited in what they can say, and they won't be allowed to tweet crime scene photos, he said.

Two officers are currently serving as test cases while on special assignment to the media relations office. One of the officers, Kevin Wetherington, has used Twitter in a limited way so far that isn't much different from any other media relations officer.

The news blog, dpdbeat.com, is similar to the department's Facebook page, but with more stuff. Users can click through cold cases, find a phone number directory and other information about the department.

Unlike on Facebook, members of the command staff might also use the website to write white-paper-style posts for the public.

Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston, who attended the launch event, said he believes the new social media strategy will interfere with police work and get in the way of the truth.
"This is Big Brother's way of circumventing the media and putting their spin on the news," he said.

The Pinterest page, meanwhile, is currently an online lost-and-found with pictures of recovered property. Pinkston said he didn't have a problem with that.

Copyright 2014 The Dallas Morning News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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