The Los Angeles Police Department has numerous Twitter accounts, including for its Criminal Gang Homicide Division, its police chief, Charlie Beck, and individual patrol districts.
Many agencies also have individual officers authorized to tweet, after going through training. Joe Murray, a Philadelphia detective who works in the southwestern part of the city, has approval from the agency to tweet about his police work. He said too many agencies over-think social media and are "trying to be cool by using Twitter, and that's not how it works."
"Good P.R. is providing useful information," Murray said.
Last year, Baltimore's citywide robbery unit — which investigates commercial robberies — started an account, but was told to direct information about its work through the main police account. The dormant account, @CitywideRobbery, still exists.
Nancy Kolb, who oversees the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Center for Social Media, said some users will unfollow accounts that provide too much information. "You want to provide information that's going to be helpful, but not so much that they may no longer engage with you," Kolb said. "You're not going to make everyone happy."
According to Baltimore Police Department data, there were four homicides, six nonfatal shootings, 51 robberies, and 82 burglaries across the city in the week that ended April 6.
The agency's Twitter feed for that week tweeted three of the homicides and all of the nonfatal shootings. The rest of the 70 posts covered topics that included photos of Batts, a promotional recruitment video, a flier seeking assistance in solving a triple homicide, an alert about a missing juvenile, a handful of statistics that cast the department in a positive light, gun arrests, and teasers for a daily web video the agency's public affairs staff produces. There was also a tweet congratulating the Orioles for winning on Opening Day.
Cherry, a city resident, said he found out about a string of robberies in his neighborhood through a fellow officer, and said he felt as both a citizen and an officer that the agency could have given him that information through social media.
But his frustrations escalated in February, after police did not mention on social media the fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old who was killed downtown as he left the Super Bowl victory parade. He felt that police missed a big opportunity to quickly post information about the incident and perhaps get tips from citizens in return. The case remains unsolved, and the victim's family has accused the city of trying to downplay the incident for the sake of appearances. City officials deny that.
After Cherry posted his criticism Sunday night, he followed up Monday morning by tweeting what he thought the agency's feed should more closely resemble: He posted about a stabbing in Northeast Baltimore, and wrote that the Warrant Apprehension Task Force had traveled to a broccoli farm in Santa Maria, Calif., to arrest a shooting suspect.
He thinks detectives can get tips on crimes if they offer more to the public on social media.
"This information needs to go out in real time, not fliers in mailboxes the next day. That's how we did it 30 years ago," he said.