Denton PD is Doing Tweet-Alongs and Some People Think It's Weird

Entering the scene on Friday, December 15, during multiple approaches, the Denton Police Department took to social media using their twitter @DentonPD with live tweets, using the hashtags #TweetAlong and #DentonPD as they patrolled. 

In one of the approaches live-tweeted Friday evening, there was a vehicle found illegally parked in a disabled space. Denton PD took to Twitter, noting that the driver had been drinking and the officers were checking to see if he was intoxicated. 

In a follow-up tweet, the department stated that the suspect was not actually intoxicated.

“Turns out he wasn’t intoxicated, but decided to let someone else drive anyway. Potentially big fine for parking in a disabled parking space though,” the Denton Police Department wrote with #TweetAlong and #DentonPD.    

In response to the live-tweeting of the department, Twitter user Miles Tugeaux‏ (@GoingBoeing97) commented “Come on, guys. Innocent until proven guilty. Not sure if your tweet-along, and the sometimes-mistaken first impressions it entails, do Denton citizens justice. Please stop now," while tagging #Denton and #police.

In response to Miles Tugeaux, the Denton Police Department replied via tweet: “That’s why no one has been identified.”

In the @DentonPD tweet, there was no name of identification nor license plate number, but the post did include photos attached which showed the suspect from behind facing the officer and the man's vehicle. This may or may not make the man identifiable to people close to him, but the fact remains that no one was specifically identified in the post by name. So: is the Department tweeting about it ethical? 

“Anything that occurs in a public place can be recorded in the same way any citizen can take pictures in public. We frequently post pictures of criminal suspects on social media seeking the public's help in identifying them, but maintain a policy of not naming anyone unless they have been charged with or convicted of a crime,” Bryan Cose, Community and Media Relations for the Denton Police Department, said. “The only exception to this would be during a tweet-along we do not identify anyone, even if they have been arrested. If any pictures or videos are included with the tweet, they are taken from an angle that either obscures the suspect's face or only shows them from behind and does not show license plate numbers. Although legally, we could post faces and names, we make an effort not to.” 

The social media for the Denton Police Department is run by Public Information Officers.

Cose said that this is not the first time that the Denton Police Department has done a live tweet-along, but it has simply been a long time since they did one. Cose said that police departments both in the United States and internationally have been doing tweet-alongs for several years. 

Earlier that Friday, Denton Police Department continued their tweet-along: “Seeing a new face on the courthouse lawn,” the @DentonPD tweet read, “Ofc Webb and Keen are introducing themselves,” and once again using #DentonPDLIVE and #TweetAlong

The tweet showed a man dressed in a black, red, and white scarf, a black beanie, faded blue jeans, and a black sweater with a dark blue sweater underneath. The photo seemed to be near the corner of the Denton courthouse on the east side of the Square. Officers Webb and Keen are facing the unidentified man.

 Following that tweet, Denton Police Department tweeted again: “Oops! Turns out he had an outstanding felony arrest warrant for Possession of a Controlled Substance out of Gregg County. He’s going to the @DENTONPD jail tonight. #DentonPDLIVE #TweetAlong."

Social media is important to get public opinion and keep citizens updated and informed, according to the City of Denton Policy/Administrative Procedure/Administrative Directive for Social Media.

City of Denton Policy-Administrative  Procedure-Administrative Directive for Social Media


While using social media, of course, there will be varied opinions on how well it is used and the ethics behind the use. 

“I imagine the Denton city attorney might be appalled at some of the insinuations and subsequent retractions made in last night’s #TweetAlong, especially with pics of identifiable vehicles and people. Regardless of whether other cities have done it, Denton Police Department’s #TweetAlong, especially its photos of incidents and individuals, strikes me as the product of an over-zealous and under-supervised social media manager at Denton Police Department,” Twitter user Miles Tugeaux‏ of @GoingBoeing97 said, “I also can’t help but wonder what Denton city council members, police chief, and city attorney would make of Denton Police Department’s #TweetAlong not just potential liability, but also in terms of basic justice and fairness.” Tugeaux added that despite his criticisms, he fully supports the police as a financial contributor to the Denton 100 Club.

Under the City of Denton Policy/Administrative Procedure/Administrative Directive for Social Media at Department Guidelines, Section C, it states: “By establishing a Social Networking presence, the primary purpose is to provide a source of information for citizens.”

The #TweetAlong does inform citizens to see what is actually happening throughout different police approaches at different times of the day by being a way to inform citizens. 

The Denton Police Department said that they will be doing more of the #TweetAlong in the future. “Social media usage by law enforcement is important for many reasons. The platform allows us to distribute important information and alerts, request assistance from the community, humanize officers, provide safety tips, and more.” Cose said, “The beauty of social media is the ability to create a two-way dialogue with the community. It provides a very easy means for citizens to ask questions and get answers.”

Cose said that the department recognizes that for many, social media is the only way of insight or contact with the police department. The department sees it as one of the most effective and efficient ways to communicate information with large numbers of people. 

“An example of this is a tweet-along,” Cose said,  “Any resident can ride along with a Denton Police Officer at any time (after passing a background check), but that experience reaches only that individual sitting in the car with the officer and seeing what the officer sees. A tweet-along or virtual ride-along is a way to share that informative experience with thousands of people all at once.”   

Header photographed by William Niven courtesy of Unsplash
Header image layout designed by Cristopher Rodgers

Robert Warren