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The Seattle Police Department made the pages of the New York Times Monday - and it had (almost) nothing to do with Department of Justice


SPD's New 'Tweets-By-Beat' Program Featured in The New York Times

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The Seattle Police Department made the pages of the New York Times Monday - and it had (almost) nothing to do with Department of Justice claims of excessive force or biased policing. Rather, the new "Tweets-By-Beat" program - launched last week by SPD - was heralded as an ambitious attempt to give the agency more of a community presence on social media, designed to increase transparency and provide the public with a clearer picture of the day-to-day dealings of Seattle's boys in blue.

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Described by the NYT as "51 hyper-local neighborhood Twitter accounts providing moment-to-moment crime reports," so far the project walks the line between kind of awesome and kind of boring.

The tweets sent out by the Tweets-By-Beat program are cold and robotic (because they're literally sent out by computers, not humans), but the endeavor certainly succeeds in giving Seattleites a portal to more information than has ever been available before, not to mention a much more accurate picture (albeit truncated into 140 characters at a time) of crime in Seattle's neighborhoods.

Seattle Police Chief John Diaz tells the NYT all about it:

"More and more people want to know what's going on on their piece of the rock," said the chief of police, John Diaz. "They want to specifically know what's going on in the areas around their home, around their work, where their children might be going to school. This is just a different way we could put out as much information as possible as quickly as possible."

Of course, critics will point out that SPD hasn't always been known for its transparency or making information easily available to the public. That's where the "almost" caveat mentioned in the opener comes in. The Tweets-By-Beat program is part of Mayor McGinn's 20/20 action plan, which has been part of the city's response to the DOJ's findings from 2011.

More from the NYT:

"This is trailblazing stuff," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. "It shows a willingness I haven't seen in large supply to really affirmatively make available, warts and all, a clear picture to people of what's going on."

But Professor O'Donnell, a former New York City police officer and prosecutor, said he thought there could be unintended consequences. Increased awareness of local crime, he said, could lead people to a greater feeling of vulnerability or to the conclusion that the police are not resolving the local crime problem -- even if it is a problem they might not have been aware of had the beat-tweet not informed them.

The Seattle police have reasons to want to appear forthcoming. The department is in the middle of an internal overhaul as well as a court-directed settlement with federal prosecutors prompted by investigations that found a pattern of misconduct, including excessive force and ethnic and racial insensitivity. The Twitter program is one of 20 initiatives in 20 months announced this year by Mayor Mike McGinn -- specifically No. 17, to "provide better information to the public."

So what does the Tweets-By-Beat program look like in practice? Click on the following pages and find a sample of tweets sent out over the last five days, organized by precinct.

North Precinct

Find tweets from the East Precinct on the following page ...

East Precinct

Find tweets from the West Precinct on the following page ...

West Precinct

Find tweets from the South Precinct on the following page ...

South Precinct

Find tweets from the Southwest Precinct on the following page ...

Southwest Precinct

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