Civilians without a lick of police training can help officers keep the peace in downtown Victoria on Canada Day, by staying alert and keeping their smartphones at the ready.
For the first time, Canada Day party-goers are invited to send in concerns or questions, tips about alcohol-related incidents and minor trouble in progress, such as acts of vandalism, to police via social media.
A Victoria police officer will be monitoring messages posted on Twitter with the hashtag #vicpdhelps, on July 1 only.
Emergencies should still be reported by calling 911, but the Twitter hashtag could be used “if you’re out and about and see something that police need to know about,” said Const. Mike Russell, who developed the innovative policing approach.
The department is believed to be the first in Canada to proactively try address incidents during a large public celebration via Twitter, a social media channel that people use to instantly send out 140-character messages.
“It’s usually things like, ‘Hey, there’s a guy that’s passed out drunk beside me,’ or ‘Hey I see a guy that’s bootlegging for people at this liquor store,'” said Russell.
Last year, social media tips allowed police to stop adults who were buying booze for minors from liquor stores in James Bay.
Chances are good that social media users will be able to alert police to incidents in the making. Last July 1, 128,000 people viewed the department’s Twitter feeds, Youtube videos and Facebook posts.
This latest initiative allows the department to proactively build upon that connection, helping ensure the party stays family friendly when more than 40,000 people converge on the provincial capital Sunday.
“I thought there has to be growth in what you do otherwise you just become stale,” Russell said of the #vicpdhelps idea.
“Because Canada Day is such a busy day for our department, we’re mobilizing every communication strategy and that’s why this #vicpdhelps is for Canada Day only.”
Be in the know:
Follow the Victoria Police Department online at www.facebook.com/victoriapolicedepartment, on Twitter.com @vicpdcanada and on youtube.com/vicpdcanada. You can also keep up to date on the latest Canada Day news in Victoria by following tweets with the #yyjcanadaday hashtag.
Canada Day was VicPD’s busiest night of 2011:
Calls for service: There were 264 calls Canada Day night, compared to 150 calls typically received in a 24-hour period.
Crowds: almost 35,000
Kept in police jail cells overnight: 85 people
Arrested for public intoxication: 80, including 22 from Saanich and 15 from the West Shore
Police safety tips for Canada Day:
Don’t bring liquor downtown
Plan a safe way home, in light of road closures and parking limitations
Fireworks without a permit are banned