Whenever there’s a disturbance in my Seattle neighborhood, I fire up the online police scanner or visit the hyperlocal news blog MyBallard.com to pinpoint what’s going on. But now I’ve got another option: Cruising over to Twitter.
The Seattle Police Department has introduced 51 new Twitter accounts for precincts throughout the city where everyday citizens can peruse criminal activities and investigations in their neighborhoods — all in tightly written 140-character news chunks.
Think of it as a police scanner for the Twitter generation. Dubbed Tweets by Beat, the program is designed to provide more information on what’s occurring in neighborhoods throughout the tech-loving city, creating a new channel by which citizens can learn what’s happening around them.
The New York Times featured the new program today, noting that it allows residents and criminals “to know in almost real time about many of the large and small transgressions, crises, emergencies and downright weirdness in their neighborhoods.”
Sounds cool, huh?
As a news hound myself, I am intrigued with the latest happenings in my neighborhood. And I know I am not alone. I’ve already subscribed to several of the Tweets by Beat feeds (which, frankly, are a bit confusing to track if you’re not familiar with the breakdown of police precincts in the city. An easy-to-use precinct map would be helpful).
It will be interesting to see how this develops, but I am not sure how much I’ll use it. I downloaded an iOS app several months ago called Seattle Crime, which plots police activities on a map. However, I’ve found I rarely use it when something is going on in my neighborhood, turning instead to the trusty scanner.
The reason is that the police scanner actually offers a real-time feed of what’s happening. In the case of Tweets by Beat, the automated posts are delayed by one hour, which according to the New York Times was designed to prevent “people from learning about an investigation in progress and swarming over to gawk and perhaps interfere.” The feeds also exclude domestic violence and sex crimes.
Nonetheless, it is commendable that the Seattle Police Department is jumping on the Twitter bandwagon in a big way, offering insights on day-to-day activities, from boring traffic stops to dramatic high-speed chases.