Boston PD successfully used social media after marathon bombing

The Boston Police Department successfully used Twitter to keep the public informed during the investigation after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings, according to a recent report by the National Institute of Justice.

The report was part of an effort to contribute to a broader, ongoing discussion about police and social media. The authors of the report explained the ways in which law enforcement is using social media to build on the concepts of community policing and bring theory and practice into the digital age.

"It is a reflection, in light of Boston's experience, on the opportunities and challenges that social media present to the police and on the ways in which social media can help develop new models of policing that are adapted to our 21st-century world but rooted in traditions of community engagement stretching back through the community policing movement to Robert Peel's 19th-century goals for a modern constabulary," the report said.

Shortly after the bombings, Edward Davis, the police commissioner of BPD, instructed the Media Relations Office to use all forms of social media to spread accurate and complete information to the public. Within an hour of the detonations, BPD sent a tweet to confirm the explosion at the marathon finish line.

BPD used its official Twitter account in the ensuing hours to request public assistance, keep the public informed about road closures, reassure the public, express sympathy to the victims and their families and give the public accurate information about the casualty toll and the status of the investigation.

After the BPD gave control of the investigation to the FBI, it continued to keep the public informed via Twitter and to correct erroneous reports spread by others. When the two suspects were formally announced by the FBI, the BPD released a series of tweets containing videos and pictures of the suspects. The posts were reteweeted thousands of times each.

The BPD was praised for leading an honest investigation with the public in a way no police department had ever previously done.

The National Institute of Justice is the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.