Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland: Crime Beat Becomes Crime Tweet

15 Apr

Crime Beat Becomes Crime Tweet
A Philadelphia cop taps social media for crime control

Using social media doesn’t just mean mundane status lines and community games. Joseph Murray, a Philadelphia-based detective, has devised a unique way to combine Twitter with his neighborhood watch. As a result, he’s made his area a safer place. Hopefully, his idea will go viral. Imagine all these Twitter-communities keeping watch.

Murray is a third-generation police officer and long-time Philadelphia resident. He joined the force when he was just 19. Six years later, he became a detective. He started his online networking efforts with community blogs when he became a member of the Southwest Division. He wanted potential victims to be aware of danger zones – especially those that were presently in progress. Twitter provided a great tool, for both brevity and speed.

Murray opened a Twitter account in 2009 and identified himself as a detective. He’s @TheFuzz9143 (his badge number). He signaled that he would be posting tweets about crime patterns, suspects, and public safety. He asked people to let him know if he could be of assistance. It was an invitation to be involved.

“Everyblock is reporting a stranger rape on the 200block of 47th Friday night,” one Tweeter writes. “Nothing in news. Is this true?”

“Not true,” TheFuzz9143 responds. “Can’t find anything in any computer system we have here.” Followers can see the response and retweet it. If he gets an update, he can send it out at once, and the update quickly spreads.

In another tweet, Murray related a “great job done by a few citizens who called police when they spotted a guy who committed a robbery a few nights ago. Arrest made. Phone returned.”

As of today, he has acquired around 1285 followers, many of whom live in his area. He’s known some followers as long as 5 years, from the earlier message boards.

“I started Twitter,” he says, “because the neighborhood message boards were becoming irrelevant. I wanted to use the popular medium. You have to adapt or you’ll be left behind.”

He’s aware of the limitations of a few cops driving around a neighborhood: they can be in only one place at any given time. Citizens who join the effort to keep their neighborhoods safe offer more eyes and ears. It’s also a way to build trust and cooperation. Even Philadelphia’s mayor has posted tweets on Murray’s feed.

On a daily basis, he tweets where and when crimes are occurring (“just had a gunpoint Robbery on 47th Street”), and responds to queries. For example, they arrested a guy in the process of a car-jacking who couldn’t figure out a stick shift. Murray even tweets to criminals not yet arrested, warning them they’ll be in custody soon.

Murray is a face to which people can relate, a protector who listens. He’ll even comment on mundane things like what he’s eating or the billboard ads he notices. When things are quiet, he offers safety tips or posts a photo he just took. If someone wants to send a tip confidentially, Murray provides his private email address.

To spread the word, reporters have written about Murray’s efforts to lift the veil that often blocks the police from the community they serve. One Philadelphia journalist contacted residents to get their reactions, finding individuals who keep Murray’s Twitter feed on their home pages or who feel like Murray is a friend. This is positive community policing in action. One neighborhood watch group routinely checks Murray’s tweets before they go out on patrol.

Recently, bureaucracy slowed things down, as officials realized that policies must be in place before officers reach out in this medium. “Per a new directive,” Murray tweeted in January, “all personnel wanting to use social media under their official title must get approval from the commissioner.”

The Philadelphia Police Department recognizes the service Murray provides and they’re currently training 12-15 officers to exploit social network opportunities for community relations. It’s important to have consistency. The department itself has a Twitter feed, @Phillypolice.

The concept is simple: train officers to use Twitter, publicize their “beat” locally, and invite followers to provide information about things they observe. Also, provide followers with safety tips and updates (where possible) about local crime. It’s a terrific way to tap the networking power of social media. It’s not a replacement for 911, but it does connect a lot of people. It also makes them feel safer and more involved.

Let’s hope more towns and cities pick up on it. As Murray states, “It’s win-win.”

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is an associate professor of forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University. She teaches undergraduate, graduate, and online courses there, specializing in forensic procedures and issues. She holds master’s degrees in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, criminal justice from DeSales University, and forensic psychology from the esteemed John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as a Ph.D. in philosophy.

In addition to four graduate degrees, she has a certification in Medical Investigation (CMI-V) from the American College of Forensic Examiners International, and she is on the board of the Cyril Wecht Institute and the International College of Behavioral Science. Her current teaching interests involve forensic science admissibility, psychological investigation procedures, serial killers, and the neuroscience of violence and psychopathy.

Dr. Ramsland has published forty books, including The CSI Effect, The Forensic Science of CSI, The Science of Cold Case Files, The Devil’s Dozen: How Cutting-edge Forensics Took Down Twelve Notorious Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers, Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Criminal Mind: A Writers’ Guide to Forensic Psychology, and The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence.

She also wrote biographies of Anne Rice and Dean Koontz, and a trilogy of nonfiction books involving “immersion journalism,” Piercing the Darkness, Ghost, and Cemetery Stories. In this same genre, she penned The Science of Vampires and is at work on Paranormal Forensics.

With Dr. Henry C. Lee and his lab director, Elaine Pagliaro, Dr. Ramsland wrote the course text, The Real Life of a Forensic Scientist. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she co-authored a book on his cases, The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us, and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead, which is a collection of his cases of historical exhumations and forensic investigation. Dr. Ramsland’s work been translated into ten languages and she has published over 1,000 articles on serial killers, criminology, forensic science, and criminal investigation. She was also a research assistant to former FBI profiler, John Douglas, which became The Cases that Haunt Us. She currently writes a regular feature on forensic investigation for The Forensic Examiner (some of which is based on her history of forensic science, Beating the Devil’s Game). Her most recent book is Snap! Seizing Your Aha! Moments.

Dr. Ramsland presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, social workers, probation/parole organizations, judges, and attorneys. Her observations on criminality have drawn USA Today, the Daily News, the Newark Star Ledger, and other newspapers for commentary. She has consulted for episodes of CSI and Bones, and has participated on numerous documentaries for CBS, ABC, A&E, ID, the History Channel, E!, WE, and Court TV, as well as programs abroad. For the ID series, “American Occult,” she was the recurring expert.


6 responses to “Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland: Crime Beat Becomes Crime Tweet

  1. Jodie Renner

    April 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    What an excellent idea! I hope it catches on and spreads in more cities. Thanks for sharing, Dr. Ramsland.


  2. L.J. Sellers

    April 15, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Intriguing post! I may have to use some of this in my police procedural series.


  3. Tim VanSant (@TimVanSant)

    April 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I love this, but I wonder how long until the tweets get subpoenaed and the whole program gets mired in a lawsuit.


  4. katsheridan

    April 17, 2012 at 6:07 am

    My dad (a cop) used to talk about walking the beat on the streets, interacting with people, spending face time. It connected the cop to the people they served, made him approachable. He knew all the kids, who was likely to get into trouble, and all the little old ladies who knew everything that went on. Then cops started patrolling in cars and lost that intimate connection. Now this officer has found a way to reconnect, the 21st century version of walking the beat. How fabulous!


  5. R R Butler

    April 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    I heard Dr. Ramsland speak on “Psychological Sleuthing” at Writers’ Police Academy 101 last year, and the case she presented us to test our interpretation of a (very bloody) crime scene left me and another Sister in Crime from Atlanta talking over the blood traces on the porch, the big smears in the kitchen, footprints in both directions on the hallway floor, and finally the thick red flood over the laptop through the night, never coming to an agreed conclusion: murder, suicide, accident?

    This suggestion of something like Neighborhood Watch extended or transposed into the electronic realm–after the manhunt for an escapee from a prisoner work detail here on St Simons Island a few weeks ago took almost 24 hours to conclude , I think we’re ready.



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