Exclusive web extra for "Twitter me this, twitter me that" from the September 2009 issue of Law Enforcement Technology.
Unless you've completely out of touch with any source of media for the last six months or so, it's very likely you've heard of Twitter.com, a micro-blogging and social networking site. In "Twitter me this, twitter me that," ways in which law enforcement has embraced the popular site are described, as well as services parallel to Twitter that are more focused on the public safety mission.
Below, two options in addition to "tweeting" are illustrated, including Nixle's Municipal Wire and Microsoft's Vine service:
Nixle: A Twitter for cops
"The concern that I have as a law enforcement person is you can't rely on a social networking site to get critical information to your community and loved ones," says Dave Mitchell, former Prince George's County (Md.) chief of police and core member of the John Hopkins University Public Safety Executive Leadership Program. "You need to get information from sites that are secure and uncompromising."
To meet this need, Nixle (www.nixle.com) recently unveiled Municipal Wire. This new service offers the benefit of sites like Twitter, but adds the security, reliability and precision public safety needs. "Social networking sites have changed the way we connect with family and friends but they are not built for authenticated, trusted information," explains Nixle CEO Craig Mitnick. "That's why you have the attorney general in Texas shutting down the phony Twitter account. Those are facts that speak to the direct consequences for social networking platforms not being built to support official information."
Wellesley Police Department in Massachusetts recently switched to Nixle due to the more secure server and background. "In the future, [unsecured sites such as Twitter are] going to be a problem because they're not designed for verification," says Scott Whittemore, a patrol sergeant at Wellesley. "With Nixle, there's a lot of verification. Twitter was a great start, but as this evolves we are going to be moving away from Twitter."
The only disadvantage to Nixle according to Whittemore is the restrictions on where information can be sent from. "The problem with Nixle is you can't do it from the street," he explains. "A sergeant out on the street can't send a message from their BlackBerry or phone." To solve this, Wellesley is expanding the ability to send messages to its communications department. "Nixle is the only transmitting network that runs through NLETS," explains Mitchell. "It is geographically based. I can push information out to roughly a quarter-of-a-mile radius as opposed to the entire world." Any department can sign up for Municipal Wire, and like Twitter, the service is offered free.
Another notable service is Microsoft Vine (www.vine.net). Designed for use by emergency management officials to broadcast and receive information during a disaster or other major event, Microsoft Vine is currently in beta tests in Seattle. "We are not duplicating the activities people do on Facebook, Twitter or MySpace," says a Microsoft spokesperson. "Instead we intend to integrate with social networking services you use today … then provide a layer of rich services that people can tap into." Like other SNS's, Vine allows users to participate through computer, e-mail and mobile phone. Uniquely, Vine intends to "make it possible for all types of communications channels to access Vine, including a home (wired/landline) phone, satellite phones, special needs devices, automobiles (through OnStar-like systems), as well as public displays in places like grocery stores or post offices."