Tweeting Police Officer’s “Proactive” Approach to Crime Reduction

Detective Joseph Murray has recently received attention for using his twitter feed @TheFuzz9143 to provide over 950 followers with information about burglary, robbery, and other crime patterns in West and Southwest Philadelphia.

“By the time something happens and it comes to me, it’s done. It’s a crime. It already happened, and it’s my job is to solve it,” Murray says, explaining his frustration with the traditional reactive approach of the detective. “I don’t like to think that way. I don’t like to be reactive. I’d rather be proactive. When something comes to me, I look at it from the beginning and wonder how it could have been prevented. That’s my job too.”

The proactive strategy Murray advocates involves multiple communication tools (among them twitter, community message boards, and community meetings) and three main sources of information: how to avoid being a victim of crime, information about crime patterns, and the importance of networking and community building.

The approach is not as clear-cut as counting crime statistics. “You can never gauge how many crimes you’ve prevented, as a police officer or as a resident in your neighborhood,” Murray admits. “But, you know what? Who cares?! If in a year you can feel the difference, you can sense the difference, isn’t that good enough?”

This proactive work aligns with the comprehensive community development model of LISC’s  Building Sustainable Communities strategy. Police and security can only account for one-third of the ingredients for crime: the offender. The other two thirds – the victim and the location – offer neighborhoods the opportunity to lower the probability of a crime through community-building strategies, neighborhood improvement efforts, and smart planning. Aligning the multiple strategies can create a sustainable shift in criminal activity in a neighborhood.

Murray posts tips to his twitter feed, like this picture of a suspect's car.

For a big city like Philadelphia, neighbors have to be involved in keeping their neighborhoods safe, Murray says. “If you have a neighborhood where everybody is looking out for each other, who keep the neighborhood clean, then crime is going to go down.”

What the proactive strategy leaves out is also important. Police presence and other security measures can detract from the livability of a neighborhood. “You’re not going to arrest your way out of a problem… There are a lot of things the police aren’t needed for, that the neighbors can take care of themselves,” Murray explains. “Besides, who wants the police there all the time?” And who would want to live in a neighborhood with all the trees cut down, with tons of cameras and bright lights? Giving neighbors information and a proactive role in improving their community in other ways is an essential part of a comprehensive community safety strategy.

@TheFuzz9143 went silent after the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) worked to create a policy limiting officers’ public use of social media. But after residents set up a petition to restore the feed, PPD promised it would be resotred and that they planned to replicate Murray’s model by training other officers in the department. Now Murray is back tweeting again, with the department’s blessing as @PPDJoeMurray.

Murray is excited about the department’s efforts to include social media in its official policies and strategies, and he reiterates that there is a lot more to community safety. “The human part of it is what we need. Technology doesn’t solve everything. We need people to help us. If they don’t trust us, it’s not going to happen. And sitting in an office isn’t going to help. We have to get out there and be known.”

For more information, follow @PPDJoeMurray on Twitter.

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