Police use Twitter to enhance fight against crime

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pretoria - The South African Police Service (SAPS) has seen a significant growth in its social media presence, a platform where followers can actively participate in the fight against crime.

SAPS has reached a following of 150 000 on Twitter and 60 000 on Facebook, after joining the popular social media platform in April 2012.

According to the SAPS, this milestone puts SAPS ahead of some of its international counterparts in the United Kingdom, as well as some states in the USA and South Australia.

The SAPS’s Twitter handle has come a long way since its inception and is currently growing at a rate of about 5 000 followers per month.

With an active social media presence, the SAPS is able to communicate with communities directly and in real time and mobilise them in the fight against crime. The SAPS Twitter account is also used to complement traditional platforms to track the whereabouts of criminals.

“We are very pleased that we’ve reached this milestone. Congratulations to the team for their hard work. Over the last few months we have been working very hard to improve the content we share and the speed at which we share it.

“We are not yet where we would like to be but we are doing very well and I believe that all the initiatives that we’ve put in place and enhancement that we will soon be rolling out will bear fruit,” said Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale, Head of SAPS Corporate Communication.

Colonel Dimakatso Mokwena, who supervises the SAPS social media platforms, explained that with 150 000 followers on Twitter over two million people are potentially reached, thanks to “tweeps” who help spread their messages.

“Social media has empowered our followers to safely contribute and to actively participate in the fight against crime.

Mitzi Ebersöhn, who is also part of the SAPS’s social media team, said the Twitter account allows SAPS to have an interactive dialogue with followers and share crime prevention tips, identify problem areas and improve efficiency at station level.

“We post information about the tangible results of our operations, such as items seized and arrested suspects, without showing their faces in line with their constitutional rights. By law the identity of suspects cannot be revealed until they appear in court,” she said.

Makgale said the beauty of the social media platform was that SAPS was able to engage with the public directly, explain where clarity is needed and empower communities about the work that SAPS does.

“Most importantly, our Twitter account gives us the opportunity to share information with the public and offers us the platform to demystify some of the widely-held misconceptions about criminal procedure and the mandate of the SAPS.”

To demonstrate the power of social media, Makgale cited a case where an individual tweeted a picture at the height of the recent attacks on foreign nationals which dated back to 2008.  A member of the SAPS social media team verified the origin of the picture and SAPS was in this way able to dispel misconceptions that were caused by the picture which was being retweeted.

“Following this timely intervention, our followers spread the word that the picture was an old picture and is not from the recent attacks on foreign nationals. Our followers became our messengers who spread the message,” said Makgale.

However, being active on social media comes with challenges.

“We strive to treat everyone equally and respond to all the queries we receive. However, we will not waste resources by engaging in conversations that are not constructive.

“We remain committed to continue to use this platform to offer an improved service to communities and we therefore refuse to be distracted by people hiding behind pseudonyms who use this platform as a launch pad to mount irrational and spurious attacks on the integrity of the SAPS,” added Makgale.

Ebersöhn added that there are still people who treat the SAPS Twitter account as if it were the 10111 call centre.

“It is still important for people to call 10111 or go to their nearest police station to report a crime, as the officials there are trained in that area of policing,” she said.

She added that one of the keys to being relevant on social media was to post information in less formal language. “Our online community really appreciates the informal way in which we communicate on social media.”

Going forward, the SAPS envisages that they will have a noticeable presence on other platforms such as YouTube, where they have already opened a channel and are now working on publishing content regularly.

Colonel Mokwena said reaching the youth was a priority and the SAPS planned to have a presence where the youth hang out online.

For now, the SAPS is happy with its growing number of followers on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

“The safety and security of everyone in this country is everyone’s business. If you want regular updates about what is going on in your area regarding policing, follow us on the social media,” added Makgale. – SAnews.gov.za