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Saskatchewan Mounties tweet every overnight call

The crossover between real life and social media is complete. Kids are doing it, parents are doing it, corporations are doing and, yes, even police in Saskatchewan are doing it.

Police organizations across Canada have embraced social media as a way to reach out to the public, bringing information right to the people through Facebook status updates, YouTube videos and Twitter posts.

The practice may be helpful in solving crime, but perhaps the biggest benefit is the connection it builds between the service and the people they are meant to protect.

Most recently dispatchers in Saskatchewan spent an entire night updating the public on their status. RCMP in Saskatchewan tweeted a message after every 911 call it received Thursday night, detailing for its 3,600 followers (at the time) the ins and outs of a night on patrol.

Roughly 200 separate calls were received over the course of the night, many of them regarding drunk and disorderly conduct, home disturbances and personal injury.

A large number of the 911 calls were hang-ups.

"Prior to social media, we didn't have the ability to invite people into our call centre. And now that we have social media, it's like people can join us during the shift," communications specialist Natalie Gray told the Regina Leader-Post.

Police organizations are more commonly using social media, specifically Twitter, to connect with the public. And people are connecting back. The Saskatchewan RCMP crew spent nearly as much time answering questions as they did posting updates.

The Toronto Police Service recently launched a social media strategy that saw their presence grow online. One key tenet of the plan — to enhance public trust in the force.

"[W]e are expanding our horizons and bringing more people into the house to deal directly with their local police," said Deputy Chief Peter Sloly at the time.

But there are issues about how the public uses it in return. Last Christmas, a war broke out online as the public tweeted the location of driver spot checks. Officers used their accounts to warn people not to do that, but a see-saw struggle had begun.

Another issue is when the public tries to use Twitter or Facebook to report a crime. When celebrity blogger Perez Hilton visited Toronto for the Much Music Video Awards years ago, he tweeted for help after being confronted in a bar.

Earlier this year, The Toronto Police used the high-profile incident to raise awareness of the need to phone for help.

The Saskatchewan RCMP said they weren't sure if they would live tweet another evening of emergency calls, but said it seemed to have helped the public understand what they do.

And that can't help but benefit the force in the long run.

(CBC photo)