The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has been dipping a toe in the social media waters since 2009. Led by the initiative of a few savvy officers, including @GrafittiBMXCop
, Constable Scott Mills, the TPS has had success engaging Torontotonians through these channels.
What started as a fledgling experiment is now a full-on, funded program and, as of this Wednesday, 170 officers have received training in all types of social media, including Facebook
According to Seargent Tim Burrows (@trafficservices
on Twitter), social media hasn’t just become an add-on service for the TPS, “it has been seen as extremely effective and a great tool.”
Burrows said that even the original, limited efforts to engage a younger, more connected audience have been beneficial. "That's what this has all been about; making sure that we’re serving the citizens of Toronto as best we can,” he said. Burrows said it's opened a dialogue between the police and new, previously underrepresented groups.
Deputy Chief Peter Sloly (@deputysloly
on Twitter), the main speaker at the social media initiative announcement, said that while some officers met the idea of becoming involved online with “cynicism, suspicion and fear,” everyone has seen the benefits.
It comes down to dissemination of information, Burrows said. “When you’re getting that information out there, you create a better, safer, more livable Toronto,” he said. "The way the times have changed, we can no longer rely on everybody watching the evening news to get (that) information."
As for the future, Burrows doesn’t believe this will change the way in which officers interact with the public, only the ease with which their attention can be grabbed. “I don’t want to see a change with the way we interact, what I want to see is more of it," he said. "We’re going to have an opportunity where we’re becoming much more open, much more accessible, much more transparent.”
Sloly said there are now 29 recognized TPS twitter accounts, though that number will grow in the immediate future. There is no cap set as of now on the number of accounts, but both he and Burrows said that this is just the beginning, albeit the end of the soft launch, for the campaign.