Meet the Man in Charge of the NYPD's Twitter Outreach Program

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on July 8, 2014 7:12am 

 Zachary Tumin, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives, is the architect of the NYPD Twitter plan.
Zachary Tumin, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives, is the architect of the NYPD Twitter plan.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

NEW YORK — The NYPD plans to give Twitter handles to some of the city's subway lines and all precinct commanders in an effort to improve communication with city residents, the architect of the NYPD's social media campaign said.

Commissioner Bill Bratton will also start blogging, according to Zachary Tumin, the NYPD's newly appointed Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives, who called social media a "must-have tool for law enforcement."

The department, which has amassed more than 250,000 "likes" since launching its Facebook page in February 2012, will also be creating individual pages for several precincts and borough commands, Tumin said.

“We need to be masters of these platforms because that’s where New Yorkers are,” he said. “We are going to go anywhere New Yorkers are so they can find us and we can find them.”

While the previous administration was skeptical of social media, Bratton has embraced it — following in the footsteps of other police departments including Boston's, which has 277,000 followers on Twitter.

Tumin, who has been tweeting since 2008, has more than three decades of experience in government and the field of information technology.

He has served as chief of Information Services for the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, led the division of school safety for the New York City public schools and taught at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

In 2012, Tumin and Bratton co-wrote the book, “Collaborate or Perish! Reaching across Boundaries in a Networked World.”

He said social media is "a must-have tool for law enforcement” with Twitter in particular having the “ability to mobilize New Yorkers in time of need — whether crime has occurred or it’s a disaster that’s looming.”

In April, five commanding officers — in the 112th, 106th, 83rd and 25th precincts, as well as in the Housing Bureau's Police Service Area 6 — started tweeting.

In June, 15 additional commanding officers joined Twitter and, in August, the department is planning to train another 20, according to Tumin.

All the precinct commanding officers are scheduled to be on Twitter by the end of the year, he said.

The initial group included Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff, the commanding officer of the 106th Precinct in South Ozone Park, who last year caused controversy for tweeting the identities of career criminals recently released from prison.

Tumin said the department's newest Twitter users have quickly adapted to the new technology.

"I think what surprised us was the ease with which our commanding officers have picked this up and began to use it," Tumin said. "It moved from push to pull."

The public's response to the department's social media outreach efforts has also been encouraging after at least one initial hiccup, police officials said.

Capt. Thomas Conforti, who started the 112th Precinct Twitter handle before being reassigned to the 109th Precinct, said that local residents started tweeting him information about issues important to their neighborhoods.

Several top police officials also use Twitter, including Bratton, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce and First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro.

But at this point, Tumin said, there are no “immediate plans for individual officers to be tweeting.”

The first Twitter handles for the subways will be created as early as August in an effort to raise awareness about offenders who often target the same lines repeatedly.

“Crime rides those lines as well — thieves and those who would steal and rob favor the familiarity and the ... easy-on, easy-off access of single lines,” Tumin said.

The handles, such as @NYPDAtrain, would give the NYPD an opportunity to post about criminals who have been identified as having committed a crime on a particular line.

It wasn't immediately clear which lines would receive such pages.

The department is also exploring collaboration on the project with the MTA so that the transit agency could also post its announcements, Tumin said.

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the MTA, said in an email, that as of Thursday the agency has not been made "aware of this initiative," and he could not "comment further until something is presented to us by the NYPD.”

Tumin said that because the department is only beginning its social media outreach, it is likely to make some mistakes — such as the #myNYPD campaign in which Twitter users, asked by the NYPD to send their photos with police officers, sent out pictures documenting alleged brutality.

"There are many people out there who have formed opinions and if you ask them for them, they are going to share them," Tumin said.

"What’s most important is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back to it the next day."

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