East Harlem Precinct Captain Connects to the Neighborhood Using Twitter
EAST HARLEM — Police from the 25th Precinct were looking for a suspect in an April 10 shooting at an apartment on 117th Street and Pleasant Avenue.
Two friends were allegedly playing with a gun when it fired, striking one of them in the foot. Several days later, Capt. Thomas C. Harnisch tweeted out a photo of the suspect to the public.
"Within an hour, we got a call from his lawyer and the suspect turned himself in," Harnisch said.
The head of the 25th Precinct is one of five commanders around the city who have been authorized to use Twitter. Other precincts are located in Bushwick, Forest Hills, Ozone Park and PSA 6, which covers public housing in Harlem.
"Who tweets? Anybody tweet? We tweet now," said Harnisch, who uses the handle @NYPD25Pct, at a community council meeting, where he tried to recruit followers.
The plan, Harnisch said, is to use the account to highlight what he feels is good police work, missing persons and safety alerts.
So far, the account has tweeted out a picture of a gun recovered during a domestic dispute, a suspect in the armed robbery of a store on Fifth Avenue, officers patrolling in Marcus Garvey Park and a picture of a van that was stolen from the Randall's Island Golf Center.
"It is me. Well, I exercise editorial control," Harnisch said in an interview at the 25th Precinct last week. "The plan is to identify people in the precinct and send out positive messages."
Harnisch even tweeted out a picture of his family at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
It is part of a plan by the NYPD to interact with the public more using social media.
So far, the experiment has gotten off to a rocky start. Last month, the NYPD asked the public to share pictures of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD.
Some tweeted photos of people smiling with police officers, but it wasn't long before unflattering images of the NYPD began appearing.
Police officials said that would not deter them from using social media because it "provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city," wrote Deputy Chief Kim Y. Royster in a statement.
Harnisch said he too wasn't discouraged by the reaction to #myNYPD.
"It's an open forum that goes both ways so you never know what you will get," he said.
"The department's reaction was encouraging. It embraced the misstep. It's a new medium for me and the department."
The first tweet from the 25th Precinct's account was sent on April 15 and there have been more than 180 since. The account has quickly racked up more than 500 followers, including local politicians, community groups and reporters.
Harnisch believes the account would have come in handy during the March 12 East Harlem building explosion and collapse that killed eight people. He was fielding texts and calls from numerous people looking for information and would have rather sent out a tweet.
Twitter would have also been helpful during a recent shooting on Lexington Avenue and 128th Street when he started receiving texts and calls from area principals asking if it was safe to release students.
"It's not a replacement for 911 and we probably don't want crimes in progress," Harnisch said. "But the plan is to expand the use of social media and maybe even get out there on Facebook."