Some Ottawa police officers are now taking to Twitter as part of a new social media strategy.
Launched on June 26, the strategy involved a main Ottawa police account and a new Facebook page. Senior officers ranked inspector and above were also permitted to start tweeting.
The goal was to reach a new audience which doesn't usually go to the Ottawa police website or call their phone line.
Previously, most Ottawa police officers had very limited Internet access on their computers and phones.
Insp. Uday Jaswal, one of the officers now using Twitter, thinks police need to find a better way to reach out to students — especially university students — and hopefully Twitter will help with that.
"We deal with students annually when they come back around theft of laptops, break-ins to residences, safety in the community, safety when they're out enjoying themselves… those are the types of messages we want to get to them more effectively than we're doing right now,” Jaswal said.
Currently the tweets offer basic information, like safety tips and bits of news releases but they hope to engage young people by also showing a side of the police force the public usually doesn’t see – often injecting humour or personal anecdotes into the posts.
“Most recently [I tweeted about] when I was stung by the hornets, a trip to the gun range… I’ve also tweeted about a pint I had at the Elmdale House Tavern – a great institution in Ottawa,” he said.
However, as more officers start to use Twitter, some worry about the possibility of a ‘hashtag fail.’
“It could be problematic if officers are tweeting opinions about cases or facts that may touch on evidence or contaminate evidence or might reveal personal information,” criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said.
“I'm sure the policy would not allow that but as you decentralize access to social media there is a greater chance that tweets like that might happen.”
The Ottawa police service currently has more than 3,000 followers on Twitter, the chief of police is sitting at around 1,000 followers and Jaswal, just over 100.