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UI police to tweet live updates of typical weekday night

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | JANUARY 22, 2014 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa police will give the ­UI community the chance to follow them — #onTwitter.

As many Iowa law-enforcement officials continue to reach into the social-networking world, the UI police have increased their communication to community members through social networking.

“It’s a great way to communicate with not only our student population, but as well as our staff and faculty on campus,” said Chuck Green, the assistant vice president for the UI police. “We know that the technology they rely on is their cell phone, not their computer, laptop, or newspapers. We are trying to find people where we know they will be located.”

This evening, the department will kick-off its first-ever “tweet-along.” It will begin at 5 p.m. and will include an inside look at the average police officer’s nightly shift.

Recently, the dispatchers have been using major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with students, faculty, and staff at the UI about weather, traffic alerts, and urgent information about happenings on campus.

Officer Oleta McKenna, one of the coordinators for the event, said UI police dispatcher Tom Nixon will ride with an officer during his shift while live-tweeting about a typical night for officers.

“We are hoping it becomes a better tool that we are using this source,” McKenna said. “We hope it will show the university community what we do to promote and sustain safety to keep our community safe.” 

Brian Ekdale, a UI assistant professor of journalism, said even though social media can be a convenient way to transfer information to the public quickly and efficiently, there are some potential ethical issues that could occur.

One situation Ekdale referred to was potential miscommunication during major cases or events. He said that while the use of social media can be a great relationship builder between the department and the community it serves, authorities must consider ethical protection of citizens.

“The police are trained to handle a case a certain way, where the public might make great strides in helping them, but they could possibly identify people as suspects when they are not suspects,” Ekdale said.

Nixon introduced the idea to the department. He saw larger cities and campuses use similar tactics, including the University of Wisconsin.

“We have been working to up our social-media game lately,” Nixon said. “This enables us to show the wider community what the officers are doing and why we are doing it.”

Lt. Aaron Chapin of the University of Wisconsin police said the department has conducted numerous tweet-alongs. Ethical issues are taken very seriously, and the department aims to protect the identity of people.

“We would not release something on Twitter that we wouldn’t release with a press release,” Chapin said. “We try very hard to protect the identity of people who are involved, up to the point it is released as public record.”

Chapin said the tweet-alongs have been very successful, generating more than 200 followers. He said he saw other departments in Wisconsin and Texas participate in tweet-alongs as well.

“We want students and staff to know that we are available to them as a resource, and we are here to serve them,” Green said. “This is a way to provide immediate incite to information that has institutional or campus-wide impact on our community.”


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