Pioneer “Social Media Officer” Solves Crime Using Twitter

While the uniformed officers scout a scene, Toronto Constable Scott Mills is sending tweets. And he’s on the clock.

Mills is one of the first social media officers in Canada, and while working with the Toronto Police Service he leverages Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to crack cases. In just 140 characters, he might be able to find the lead of a lifetime.

As profiled in the Toronto Star, Mills reaches out to the internet population of the city of Toronto on a daily basis, attempting to find leads he otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.

Minutes after discovering a Lexus stranded in the middle of a busy road in downtown Toronto, riddled with bullets, Mills sent out the following tweet while the other officers canvassed the scene:

“YouTube video appeal for wit(nesse)s posted shortly re: Lakeshore shooting case.”

Although it isn’t everything, social media allows Mill and his team to communicate directly with the community, to both find potential leads and make the police force more relatable.

The Toronto Police Service launched its social media strategy just last week, with Mills leading the pack of 50 officers trained in social media. Their goal is to build bridges between police and the community they protect.

Since 2007 they have set up a Facebook page, a “tips” section on their website, half a dozen YouTube accounts, and now at least 50 new Twitter accounts for the new team of social media officers. They have 12,500 “likes” on Facebook, and have seen their tips triple to 900.

In order to become a social media officer, police must undergo weeks of social media training. The first batch of 50 officers trained in social media will soon rise to 125 after the next group has completed its training.

There have been several stories lately of police departments using Twitter as a means to reach out to the community, such as the Vancouver police department’s recent campaign to tweet all emergency calls in a 24 hours period and the Surrey police department doing something similar. However, it’s refreshing to see that intensive training and planning is going in to the Toronto Police Service’s social media initiative, to ensure that on-the-ground officers can tweet to the community without oversharing potentially damaging information about local crimes.