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Chicago and Baltimore Police 'Tweetalong' Gets Hijacked By Critics

By Bettina Chang | August 20, 2015 8:43pm | Updated on August 20, 2015 8:59pm

CHICAGO — Well, that didn't take long.

Chicago Police and Baltimore Police announced a "multi-city virtual ride along" planned for Thursday night, in which police departments encouraged residents to follow them on Twitter to see officers "work to keep our communities safe." But the so-called "tweetalong" quickly got hijacked by people using the hashtag #CPDBPD to draw attention to police misconduct and racism allegations across the country.

"Are there negative comments on there? Sure," said Anthony Guglielmi, Chicago Police spokesman. "I think negative comments are more reason that people need to know what it's like to police the city of Chicago — a front row seat to see what officers do every day to keep the city safe."

Chicago Police, which has a Twitter account with 28,000 followers, announced that Assistant Director Jenn Rottner and 23-year veteran of the force Officer Mark Mora would be "hitting the street" and tweeting during their shift.

But even before they began to tweet about their visits to Pilsen, Smith Park, West Loop and more, Twitter users quickly pointed out that both agencies are in hot water due to misconduct issues. 

Some mentioned Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer who had charges dismissed against him earlier this year when a judge ruled that the shooting was not "reckless" but "intentional." Others referenced Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore Police custody in April and sparked massive protests.

Others mentioned allegations that Chicago Police are illegally detaining people at a facility in Homan Square, according to a series of Guardian investigations.

While a handful of people were glad to see photos of tweets about Chicago police officers working their beat Thursday night, the majority used a combination of memes and sarcasm to react to a social media fumble by the two departments.

One tweet, asking for Twitter photos that showed people's reaction to the "tweetalong" garnered more than two dozen responses, compared to the three to four interactions on each Chicago Police tweet.

Guglielmi said, "We're in a climate now where a lot of national events have shaped policing incidents across the country, and there's no better time to be more transparent and open to engage the people you serve."

As of 8:40 p.m. Thursday Chicago Police had not replied to any messages on Twitter during the "tweetalong" except when Baltimore Police asked about the weather and when the police department from Arlington, Texas, asked to be included on the next one.

This isn't the first time a police department's social media campaign has backfired: Twitter users hijacked the #MyNYPD campaign last year by posting photos of police brutality instead of photos of themselves interacting with officers, as New York Police requested.

Guglielmi said Chicago Police intends to host "tweetalongs" again in the future, partnering with other police departments in major cities. "It's yet another way to engage the community, whether we use social media or get cops out of cars to walk the beats and interact with neighborhoods," he said.

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