ELMHURST — The NYPD is giving its precinct commanders relatively free rein on Twitter as part of the department's social media push, according to Deputy Inspector Ronald Leyson, head of the 110th Precinct.
This stance is a far cry from last year when police officials were discouraged and even punished for using Twitter, and is designed to encourage commanders to share information and open a dialogue with the public while showing off their personalities.
Leyson was a social media novice until he was tapped to be part of the NYPD’s second rollout of commanders on Twitter, creating his official account @NYPD110Pct on June 26.
“I never tweeted before the department started the Twitter program, and I’m catching on,” he said.
To experiment, he said he created his own personal account, @110BigGuy, in April to get a better understanding of how his peers were using social media. He began tweeting about local crimes, retweeting and sharing photos and personal messages.
His initiative got the attention of local media and the NYPD and he was bumped up to an earlier “class” of commanders to join Twitter.
Training for the program was a full day, he said, and was mostly "an introduction to how Twitter works," he said. And while there were "do's and don't" brought up, they are mostly given free rein over their accounts.
"The police department is really not placing restrictions on us," he said.
"They want us to be creative, inject our personalities into the Twitter experience with the community. There are obviously some legal guidelines, so we had legal discussions."
The purpose of Twitter is to "put information out on a real-time basis" but commanders must also stay in sync with department policy, he said.
Leyson, who's been with the NYPD for almost 20 years and at the 110th Precinct since 2012, said his goal is to keep his residents informed of and protected from crime in Elmhurst and Corona.
"I’m the type of person — if it’s good, bad or indifferent I’m going to tell you about it. I don’t try to sugarcoat things," he said.
"If we have an issue, I want you to know about it because I need to educate you about how not to become a victim."
The NYPD has a database of crime prevention material for use on Twitter and Leyson said he's working to get it in other languages to better serve his communities.
"I had mentioned getting this material in Spanish, since I have a predominantly Spanish community here," he said. "I have Spanish, Chinese and Korean. We don’t have the crime prevention material from downtown in those languages, as of yet, that I can post online."
Leyson also wants to highlight the work of his police officers — and recently used Twitter to tell a story about his cops of the month.
"I first tweeted that anybody who knows me knows 140 characters isn’t enough," he joked.
So he broke the anecdote into five tweets.
"That’s one of the things I want to do, introduce the public and the community here in the 110th precinct to the great work that the men and women of the 110 do," he said.
He said he'd like to use Twitter to interact more with the community, but doesn't want it to replace other NYPD methods.
"We do not want Twitter to take the place of 311 or 911," he said. "If there’s an emergency, please call 911, don’t tweet me. It’s not monitored 24 hours a day."