Twitter Helps Police Catch Litterbug

EPPING – When police received a report of someone tossing two bags of trash from a vehicle on Prescott Road Tuesday, they immediately turned to Twitter to try to catch the culprit.

A witness had provided a partial license plate number, so police decided that the fastest way to get the word out was by posting a message on Twitter seeking the public’s help.

Within two hours, police were able to track down the alleged litter bug, a 17-year-old, thanks to a woman who happened to read the Twitter message and noticed a vehicle with a similar license plate number.

The littering incident is the first case that Epping police were able to solve with the help of Twitter, a free social networking Web site that allows users to post brief messages that can then be viewed by anyone.

“It’s certainly encouraging to know that folks are following us and are willing to help us out,” Sgt. Jason Newman said.

As of yesterday, the Epping Police Department had as many as 129 followers, which are Twitter users who sign up to receive the messages known as tweets. Anyone can read the police department’s tweets by visiting

The number of people following Epping police has grown from only a handful just a month ago.

“It’s our hope that we get more and more followers on Twitter. They’ll be able to help us with more cases, whether they’re minor or more serious,” Newman said.

Police often post several messages a day. Sometimes they’ll warn drivers to avoid certain areas because of an accident, while other times they’ll give a brief description about a theft, assault or some other case being investigated.

My normal reaction is to cringe at heavy-handed application of technology by the law - but after a moment’s thought it struck me that this is just the natural evolution of community canvasing. Why should police leave out tools of basic modern social interaction? It’s not an omniscient camera network, and police already accept anonymous tips.

I’d like to read some other perspectives on the matter, however.

Hmm… I hope the traffic police here use it. That would be nice.

As for reactions? I don’t see any downsides to it. It seems to me this is a way for police departments to engage their communities in direct, on-going dialogue. I think that if such a dialogue had always existed, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have witnessed and experienced half as many cases of police brutality. Of course, that’s assuming the trouble with psycho coppers is that they dehumanise non-officers.

It seems natural. VW commercials now advertise their website as, many venues in my area are turning to myspace to get the word out…why wouldn’t cops use twitter?

I kinda dig it.

Yeah, that’s certainly one of the aspects that initially put me off - I start to think of the ole’ 1984/Fahrenheit 451 cautions … But that’s not something that’s prevented now, anyways. Sometimes police have to rely on anonymous tips.

Essentially, this is just a bulletin board for them. The tips are coming from another source.

I think I’m more afraid of the concept of police using internet-based evidence. People fuck around a lot on the net with the silly notion that nobody’s really watching - and are now starting to lose job and school opportunities over that. So some dickish friends start posting about hiding a body, or smoking crack, or whatever - and it just happens to coincide with some crime completely incidentally …

Is there much precedent for using internet confessions or tips in an investigation?

Because VW doesn’t break down your door and shoot your dog if you say something on twitter that they don’t like.

Well … Maybe back in the Forties …

I would assume that the cops aren’t “following” you on Twitter, you’re following the cops. You can block them from seeing your messages, even if they try to follow anyone following them.

They “tweeted” a message that people following them saw, someone called into help.

As long as Twitter provides a function so that the cops can’t see what you say if you don’t want them to, it’s fairly harmless.

(Also, Twitter doesn’t require the revelation of your real name, nor disclosure of your address. I see your point, but it’s fairly easy to be mostly anonymous.)

I would love to text all of the freeway follies that i see to the Highway Patrol except I’d basically be writing myself a ticket for texting while driving.

Also, the Politics and Religion Forum? Really? (<-- Hey everyone, look, I have my own meme!!!1)

Forgiveness please, I lost my decoder chart for PR/EE. Seemed like a socio-political issue, so … Movie thread?

Highway issues are actually one of the things I wish people could report on. Policing for speeding an arbitrary, inflexible limit seems mostly useless to me. But some system for registering complaints against a particular driver could be great for someone who really is a total bastard on the road.

Also, the Politics and Religion Forum? Really? (<-- Hey everyone, look, I have my own meme!!!1)

Just you wait until you start your own thread, buddy. :-p

From here.

Which isn’t even remotely what happened here. They used twitter as a community outreach tool, not as a way to spy on people. Yeesh.

Do you also object to cops doing door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood where a crime occurred?

This is no different from America’s Most Wanted, except for the tech used. It isn’t spying, and it isn’t an assault on our privacy. The police aren’t soliciting crime tips here. They are putting out wanted posters through twitter, essentially.

Of course, the police DO ask people to report crimes. But they don’t have the resources (mainly time) to scour your facebook page looking for such things.


I love that the guy tweeting for the Boston Police has a sense of humor. Good on him/her.

I don’t see a problem with this. Other than the usual stuff about police where they spend time solving littering cases while robberies get a well you can come down and file a report but it’s a waste of your time response.

More Twitter, less armored personnel carrier…ing.