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Police Ask Public To 'Tweet Smart' During Ongoing Crises

Ed Ronco
In this instance, officers had already announced their presence over a loudspeaker. But authorities caution against giving too much real-time info when officers are responding to an emergency.

Local law enforcement agencies are asking the public to “Tweet Smart” and be careful how they use social media in an emergency. Their concern is that too much information about the real-time movements of police could put officers in danger. 

The campaign is led by the Washington State Patrol. Spokesman Bob Calkins says it’s always OK to take pictures of police officers performing their duties, as long as you don’t get hurt.

“All we’re asking is delay posting that picture until the situation has been stabilized," he said. “It’s entirely possible that a suspect could be watching their smartphone as someone tweets, 'There’s a whole line of police officers about to go through the north door to the gymnasium.' That tells the suspect either to shoot toward the north door, or to try and escape through the south door.”

But how should a member of the public determine when it’s safe to post information? Calkins says there’s no generic rule. But there are examples.

“If you’ve been evacuated from an area because there’s someone with a gun, and a line of police officers are about to go through a door to that facility, that’s a tactical police movement and we’d ask you to hold off and not announce on social media which door they’re going through," he said.

Calkins says he can’t point to any local incident where social media postings endangered officers. But news organizations did hold back on posting real-time updates during the 2009 manhunt for Maurice Clemmons, who gunned down four Lakewood police officers in a coffee shop.

And Calkins says it’s easy to envision that in this era of constant connectivity, a sought person could be following police movements through a mobile device. Police departments throughout the region, including Seattle, Bellevue and Federal Way, have joined the State Patrol in launching the “Tweet Smart” campaign.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.