If you see cops from Silicon Valley to the Ukraine tapping away on their smartphones Friday, they're probably not simply texting their girlfriends on the job.
It's most likely that they are part of an unprecedented Global Police Tweet-a-Thon, where at least 250 agencies around the world had signed up to particpate.
Lauri Stevens, who runs LAwS Communications in Newbury, Mass., a company that helps police departments with their social media strategies, came up with the idea more than a year ago.
"Isn't that the craziest thing?" Stevens said by phone Friday. "I had this idea and here we are. That's the power of social media."
The rules of the tweet-a-thon are simple: Use the hashtag #poltweet and "keep it local."
Stevens wanted departments to harness the power of their tweets to show their communities what they do each day, and to persuade those cops reticent to use the 140 characters to their advantage.
"Social media is very important to their jobs," Stevens said. "It's just the latest evolution of communication technology." She acknowledged that by teaching police officers to use social media, the departments don't have to rely on mainstream media to get their message out. If a police agency wants to alert the public to a bank robber surveillance video that a newspaper or TV station is too busy to air, the police department can simply tweet out a link to the YouTube video themselves.
Mountain View police have done just that. Lt. Chris Hsiung, who is the department's "social media czar" routinely sends out tweets, pinterest photos and YouTube videos asking for the public's help in seeking criminals.
Hsiung said that his department's plans for the tweet-a-thon will be to "provide information about our community and department to the worldwide global audience following this event."
Hsiung's partner, Lt. Mike Fisher, planned to drive around town tweeting about various calls for service and providing updates. Same with Fremont, Palo Alto, San Mateo, Campbell and Sunnyvale police agencies, who tweeted about ride-alongs with their chiefs and arrests made throughout the day.
The Mesa County Sheriff in Colorado was one of the first departments to throw in the tweet-a-thon hat to "share small pieces of Western Colorado with the world." Police in North Wales tweeted out a YouTube video of an officer helping out an overturned vehicle in the blinding snow. Even the usually secretive FBI was game for the tweet-a-thon, too. The agency sent out an early morning tweetpic of a "classified threat briefing" with their director.
To see a YouTube video the San Francisco police department released in order to catch a suspect who torched a Muni bus after the Giants won the World Series, click here: