Don't Expect SPD's New Twitter Feed to Find Your Stolen Car

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There's probably no downside to the Seattle police department's new Twitter feed, @getyourcarback, that sends out an alert every time a car is reported stolen. At most it takes only a few seconds for a dispatcher to type out the make, model and license number. And an extra set of eyes (or, at last count, 597 followers) may, one day, actually lead to the recovery of a stolen car. Just don't hold your breath.

In yesterday's Seattle Times article announcing the feed, Lt. Mike Edwards of the department's investigations procedures unit said that police forces in Albuquerque, New Mexico and San Jose, California had been "issuing Twitter alerts about stolen cars and have seen some marked success."

There are two problems with this statement. The first is that San Jose's police force hasn't actually been Tweeting about stolen cars.

"The San José Police Department has never used Twitter, or any other web-based social network, to post auto theft or any other information," wrote public information officer Jose Garcia in an e-mail to Seattle Weekly.

Officer Garcia doesn't think Lt. Edwards was being willfully deceptive, he just thinks he was misinformed. San Jose's police department did create a Twitter account in April of 2009, but as you can see it's never been used. Officer Garcia has asked the Times to print a correction.

As for that second problem, it all depends on how you define "success."

Unlike San Jose, Albuquerque actually does have a Twitter feed that actually does Tweet auto thefts. And Public Safety Communications Director T.J. Wilham says that in the year since Albuquerque started Tweeting, property crimes (of which auto theft is one) have gone down 19 percent. But that doesn't mean the Twitter account has actually been successful in recovering stolen cars.

"We have found a few of the cars that we posted on Twitter," says Wilham. "But it's hard to know where the tips that found those cars came from. So far, we haven't actually traced any of the leads back to Twitter."

 
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