The New York City Police Department debuted the hashtag #myNYPD on Twitter last week as the start of a public relations campaign meant to develop a sense of community and confidence in the city’s law enforcement. Almost immediately, thousands of Twitter users took the opportunity to post pictures of police brutality, and backlash against the hashtag has called into question the NYPD’s recent efforts to mend the strained relationship between officers and the public. However unsuccessful the #myNYPD campaign has been, efforts to foster communication between law enforcement and the public should be encouraged, and the new policies being implemented by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton are a step in the right direction.
Bratton has duly recognized that social media represent another avenue for dialogue between the NYPD and the public, and it is also a viable tool in detecting future crime hotspots. A recent study has confirmed this view, demonstrating that Twitter can be remarkably accurate in predicting future crime areas when incorporated into crime hotspot studies. This use of social media should come as no surprise given Bratton’s history of using statistical analysis to reduce crime. During his first tenure as police commissioner, Bratton introduced the Compstat system, a database designed to track patterns in crime and increase officer accountability, which has been lauded as a significant reason of New York’s diminishing levels of crime throughout the last decade.
The new policies are representative of an increased social media presence by police departments around the country. In Seattle and Philadelphia, officers organize “tweet-alongs” to show the public what they do during an average work day. The few New York City precinct pages already tweeting provide routine information like missing-persons reports and traffic advisories, but one in Queens took a unique role in organizing an Easter egg hunt with officers. As more precincts begin to get their Twitter and Facebook pages up and running, the city can look forward to more creative community outreach events from the NYPD.
The NYPD’s Facebook presence is actually quite impressive. The page is regularly updated with news regarding NYPD events, charities and officers. In addition, each precinct has its own Facebook page, allowing people to receive and “like” updates from their local stations. One of the greatest features of the NYPD page is the spotlight on individual officers, who are frequently shown doing day-to-day work in the community.
Bratton has not only increased the NYPD’s transparency, but also some of its more controversial policies. Earlier this month, the NYPD shut down the surveillance program targeting the Muslim community in the city, a major step in remedying the relationship between the police force and minority groups. Moreover, Bratton has helped reduce the stop-and-frisk rates in New York — a contentious issue that made fostered mistrust of the NYPD among the public. Bratton has so far proven that he is committed to improving the image of the NYPD, whether through reforming officer conduct or improving communications.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 29 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]