#NYPDfail in Twitter Outreach

On April 22, 2014 the New York Police Dept. asked Twitter users share pictures of themselves interacting with officers using #myNYPD. The image accompanying this message depicted a man with his arms around two officers. The post seemed to have good intentions, trying to promote goodwill and a positive relationship between community members and the police department. However, what ensued was anything but positive.

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Countless photos of violent arrests and other unfavorable acts by the NYPD were posted on Twitter with #myNYPD. Photos varied from officers holding down a photographer and men beaten for jaywalking to a dog shot by an officer and protesters forcefully carried away. The hashtag used for the social media campaign, #myNYPD, was the top Twitter hashtag replacing #HappyEarthDay, according to PR News. Many of the photos tweeted were from Occupy Wall Street.

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Spokesperson and Deputy Chief Kim Royster said in a statement that the police department is trying to create new ways of communicating with the community. Time.com reports that she also stated Twitter was “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that is “good for our city.” The Wall Street Journal reported that Commissioner William Bratton said he welcomed both negative and positive photos. He said the department welcomed “the extra attention.” He added that despite the department not expecting such a negative reaction, it would not deter the NYPD from engaging the community through social media efforts.

The decision to start the social media engagement effort of collecting photos stemmed from the positive feedback of a photo that went viral in April 2014 depicting an officer helping a blind woman cross the busy streets of New York. Since this photo was shared successful, the police department believed there were other kind acts of NYPD officers that should be shared.

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This is not the only positive photo to go viral. The NYPD has had success with others in the past. Another example is a photo taken by an Arizona tourist in November 2012 showing an officer giving a homeless man boots to keep him warm on a cold night.

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Given the variety of both negative and positive images of the NYPD, did the department respond in the best way when this public relations misstep occurred? Were there ways to prevent this backlash? What are some alternative methods that the NYDP could use to engage the community without inspiring negative memories? What implications does this social media backfire have for the future of the NYPD?

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