Philadelphia police turn to social media, crowdsourcing

As of Oct. 10, PPD have made 100 arrests with the help of social media

· October 31, 2012, 10:23 pm

Philadelphia public safety organizations are putting some law enforcement power in the hands of city residents.

In recent months, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Fire Department and City Hall have launched mobile apps to increase awareness and efficiency in public safety.

In addition, both the police and fire departments have Facebook and Twitter pages where the public can follow the organizations’ activities and submit tips. The police department uses YouTube to release surveillance videos of suspects for the public to identify.

On Oct. 10, the PPD announced that they have made 100 arrests with the help of social media. This includes the use of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and iWatch. They also announced they have reached 47,000 likes on Facebook and over 12,000 Twitter followers.

On April 12, the police department launched iWatch — a free application for iPhone and Android systems that is also available online­. This program allows people to send tips, images and videos on criminal or suspicious activity to police without being identified.

The department’s history of social networking stretches back further. According to Corporal Frank Domizio, the police department started the YouTube page in March 2010. The page reached 1 million views in January 2012, but “took a while to ramp up,” Domizio said.

The site’s largest growth period has taken place since January, as the page has gained over 1.3 million views since then..

As the site has become more popular, it is also becoming a more useful tool for the police department.

“Now [the page] is really starting to make more of an effect,” Domizio said.

Since crime surveillance videos are also posted on their Facebook page, Domizio said there is no real way to tell where the person sending the tip has viewed the video.

The Philadelphia Fire Department is accompanying the police department on the path to improved social connectivity.

On Sept. 27 the fire department introduced the “Philadelphia Fire Department Safety App” that allows users to access a plethora of information.

Features of the application include home fire escape plans, a section on dorm fire safety and a natural disaster response protocol. According to Fire Deputy Chief Derrick Sawyer, the fire department’s initial goal was to develop an application simply about fire safety.

“Then we began toying with the idea, and more relevant topics came to us,” Sawyer said. “We didn’t want to include too much information, but we wanted to make it as helpful as possible.”

Like the police department’s YouTube page, the fire safety app’s effectiveness depends on its popularity. Sawyer said the fire department is publicizing the app with press releases and on the department website.

The department also used the “Dump the Dorms” fire drill that occurred on Oct. 18 at Penn, Drexel and Temple universities to publicize their app.

This drill was a part of the Citywide Home Fire Drill and was also conducted in four of Penn’s college houses to test the efficiency of students evacuating the buildings.

Chief Anthony Hudgins, who was present during the evacuations at all three universities, said he witnessed students “downloading and playing with” the fire safety app.

Hudgins added that the fire department built up excitement for “Dump the Dorms” via Twitter, tweeting messages such as “Ready for ‘Dump the Dorms?’”

PPD Detective Joe Murray, an active “tweeter” for the department, said he has had huge success using social media.

“I’m glad to see that [social media] is being embraced and is not seen as a waste,” Murray said. “If you get one tip, it’s already worth it — and I’ve gotten countless.”

Murray added that in order to keep up with the times, the implementation of networking tools such as Twitter is necessary.

Philadelphia City Hall has followed a similar example.

On Sept. 13, the Philly311 phone application was introduced to facilitate the reporting of non-emergency city service problems to City Hall. Through the app, citizens can submit requests concerning anything from graffiti to potholes. The requests are sent directly to the city department and the user gets a notification when the request has been completed.

Deputy Mayor and Managing Director of the City of Philadelphia Richard Negrin said in a press release, “[The app] is about improving citizens’ lives on a daily basis.”

Though mobile apps have proved themselves valuable tools for securing Philadelphia, Penn’s Division of Public Safety has not actively pursued the development of a phone app. “We have discussed it, but I like the hands-on, face-to-face time we get with the Penn community during meetings,” Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush said.

Rush does, however, commend other departments in the city for their use of phone apps.

For the PPD, she said, the use of a phone app “is just one more tool in the tool box.”

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