Spanish police get serious on crime using Twitter jokes

Wed Jun 5, 2013 10:08am EDT
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By Clare Kane

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's national police force is using social network Twitter to track down criminals through jokey messages to citizens that has led to 300 arrests on drug charges in the past year and become a model for other forces worldwide.

The account, @policia, is on track to reach 500,000 followers this weekend and is the second biggest of any law enforcement agency after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Officers in Madrid handle 1,200 messages on the account in an average day and answer queries for 17 hours a day, giving it greater reach than any public or private Spanish institution.

Carlos Fernandez Guerra, a former journalist and the only member of the team who is not a police officer, writes all the account's tweets which can be retweeted up to 10,000 times and shrugs off criticism that the tone is too jokey.

"We use language that is attention-grabbing, related to things that are being tweeted at the moment," Fernandez, 39, explained in his office on the third floor of a police station in central Madrid.

Fernandez is behind messages such as: "Ah, a few beers on a terrace laughing with your girlfriends, watching the hot boys go past ;) Don't take your eye off your handbag and your phone."

He readily admits that not everyone in the police likes using humorous tweets to warn citizens about email and phone scams and to discourage teenagers from "sexting", or sending nude photos to friends, that can be uploaded online and are officially classed as child pornography.

"Turn on the passion ... SWITCH OFF the camera. NO TO SEXTING!", one tweet advised.   Continued...

An illustration picture shows the logo of the Website Twitter on an Ipad, in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau