UPDATE, 5:06 PM: In an email, a police spokesman said the agency was reversing course and would continue to post tweets about every reported shooting in the city. A full update will follow.

The Baltimore Police Department says it will scale back its use of Twitter to alert residents to crime incidents in the city, the agency's chief spokesman confirmed.


For years, the city has used its @BaltimorePolice Twitter account to put out alerts within 20 minutes or so of every confirmed shooting or homicide. It has helped the agency gain nearly 40,000 followers.

But over the weekend, four shootings occurred without notifications going out on Twitter. Brief summaries of the incidents were e-mailed to the media, with the agency account instead updating followers on gun arrests and a community event in Northwest Baltimore.

Jack Papp, the agency's new spokesman, said that the decision was made recently not to post every shooting. He cited some recent cases where circumstances surrounding a shooting had changed after a tweet had been posted.

"The department is not going to tweet out every time a drug dealer shoots another criminal in the leg for non-payment - i.e. criminal on criminal crime that we know," Papp wrote in an email. "We will still tweet out instances where  non fatal shootings involve citizens, public safety issues, etc. in real time as well as homicides."

The agency was one of the first in the country to use Twitter to inform residents about crime, though other police departments now provide far more information about crimes. The Fraternal Order of Police president chastised the department earlier this year for not providing more information through Twitter.

"The reason they have [30,000] followers isn't just to hear about the feel-good stories that are going on, they want to know what is going on in my neighborhood," Robert F. Cherry said at the time. "It may not look good for the politicians or the police commanders, but if you're going to use social media the way you originally intended, you have to take it to the next level."
Over the years, the department has experimented with other ways to get information out, such as text message alerts through a program called Nixle, but those other efforts were sparsely used and eventually abandoned. 

In Washington, police tweet a slew of incidents, including robberies with descriptions of suspects as they occur, and dump nightly calls for service into online message boards set up for each precinct.

Other cities have started multiple Twitter accounts to better target information and cut down on the volume of tweets from any one handle.

Seattle has pioneered something called "tweet-by-beat," with 51 hyper-local Twitter feeds putting out calls for service -- excluding sex crimes and domestic violence -- through an automated feed. That was a move made after the agency in 2011 overwhelmed followers of its main account by tweeting nearly every incident reported to police. Police in Cambridge, Mass., in February also began "real-time" tweeting of 911 dispatcher logs.

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, such as Philadelphia, also have individual officers authorized to tweet, after going through training.