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Calif. police among nation's most followed on Twitter

Not surprisingly, a police department whose city limits include the headquarters of such high-tech icons as Google and LinkedIn is among the most followed agencies on Twitter

California Police Chiefs Association

California police departments made a solid showing in a recent ranking of U.S. law enforcement agencies that have the most Twitter followers.

Not surprisingly, a police department whose city limits include the headquarters of such high-tech icons as Google and LinkedIn is among the most followed agencies on Twitter, according to the survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police Center for Social Media.

"We've embraced certain pieces of social media that we've felt we can manage effectively," says Scott Vermeer, police chief of Mountain View as well as its assistant city manager for public safety. "We haven't tried to do everything."

Mountain View, the Santa Clara County city with a population of about 75,000, was ranked No. 2 among law enforcement agencies with 50-99 sworn officers, with 3,485 Twitter followers. Only the Naples, Fla. PD had more in that category, with 3,845 followers. Mountain View has 96 sworn officers.

Vermeer says his agency uses Twitter more for pragmatic purposes than for public relations, sending out information quickly to an audience that has specific interests. Updates on critical incidents, traffic jams, crime prevention tips — these and other types of bulletins are Tweeted regularly.

"We don't use Twitter as a two-way tool to have a 'conversation' with our followers, but more to push information out," says Vermeer, chief of police in Mountain View for 10 years.

In addition to Mountain View, other California police departments to make the Top 5 in the Twitter rankings are Greenfield, Sausalito, Arcadia, San Rafael, Modesto, Newport Beach, Sacramento and Oakland. The categories were based on an agency's number of sworn officer (for complete results, visit IACP Social Media)

In the category of 16 to 25 sworn officers, Greenfield was No. 3 with 1,312 followers, and Sausalito was No. 5 with 1,207.

In the category of 50 to 99 sworn officers, Arcadia followed Mountain View at No. 3, with 3,134 followers, and San Rafael was No. 5 with 2,803.

The Modesto PD has 5,453 followers on Twitter, good enough for the No. 2 position among agencies with 100 to 249 sworn officers, while Newport Beach was No. 5 in that category with 3,374.

Sacramento and Oakland made the top five in the category of 500 to 999 sworn officers, with Sacramento at No. 3 with 5,710 followers, and Oakland at No. 5 with 4,141.

Jay Johnson, chief of police of Newport Beach, says his department has embraced Twitter, Facebook and Nixle, the online notification system for law enforcement and government agencies.

"It's all about communicating with our community," Johnson says. "Everybody wants facts and news and information immediately, and if you're not there to provide the information, people will try to fill it in for you."

The Newport Beach PD, which has 140 sworn officers, recently Tweeted about a rash of vehicle burglaries, alerted residents about a DUI checkpoint, and offered suggestions on how not to be a victim of a crime.

The department's use of Twitter, Johnson says, supplements old-school ways of getting information that still are in use, such as sending police explorers out to neighborhoods to hand out safety-related fliers.

Still, social media tools like Twitter can't be ignored, says Johnson, chief of police in Newport Beach for two years.

"It's really an eye-opener, the influence social media has," Johnson says.

Johnson says it's difficult to measure the impact Tweets and other social media tools have had on crime rates, for example, but he has no doubt that such tools are bringing the police department and the community closer together.

Vermeer agrees. He views Facebook as more of a relationship-building and public relations tool than Twitter, which the Mountain View PD has been using since fall 2008.

"Although a lot of agencies are now using social media sites, it's important to understand that they are different tools with different users," Vermeer says. "As such, agencies need to use them individually and appropriately and not simply post the same thing to Facebook and Twitter every time. We strive to utilize the various social media sites as individual and distinct tools and then cater our message to the specific audience."

Vermeer says he's formed a group that will look into boosting the Mountain View PD's presence on Facebook and to study, in general, how his officers can use social media to help them do their jobs more effectively.

Reprinted with permission from California Police Chiefs Association

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