While humour, sarcasm and irony can be the last thing people may associate with the police department, the Mumbai Police has arrested that stereotype, emerging as a witty, smart one-liner spouting force on Twitter ever since it made its debut three years ago. At the same time, they have managed to get their messages on cyberstalking, piracy, traffic safety and drugs across to a new generation.
But behind the scenes is a team of 25-30 police constables, graphic designers and the Mumbai police commissioner and Joint Commissioner of police (law and order) themselves. “Regular weekly meetings are held in the office of the Commissioner of Mumbai Police, where the team brainstorms on the next theme or the next campaign that engages people,” said Sunchika Pandey, a former crime reporter who handles the city police’s Twitter account as well as that of the commissioner.
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) August 27, 2018
Giving a humorous slant to serious messages while not hurting sentiments is a major factor in the popularity of the Mumbai Police Twitter handle, Pandey said. She said the ideas for tweets came from observations of factors that shape or affect a person’s day to day life. “Members of our team are always alert to any kind of conversation that is gaining traction on social media and what is capturing people’s attention. It is then converted to some content to create awareness,” she said.
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) August 18, 2018
Pandey said the team handling the social media account worked in close coordination with the Mumbai Police. “It is the young constables on the ground who tips off the team on issues that people should be made aware of. Then there is a different group of about 15-18 constables that work in three different shifts monitoring responses to the tweets. Two senior officers head each shift,” she said. However, the final approval for any content is given by the police commissioner.
From an initial 31,400 followers in 2015 on Twitter to 4.6 million presently, the journey has been successful because the city police have been effective and easily approachable to the people, feels Pandey. “This adaptability by the police has really worked wonders and that’s why Mumbai Police twitter handle has always been in news despite nearly three years of launch,” Pandey said.
Mumbai Police Joint Commissioner (law and order) Deven Bharti, however, said more than the popularity of the handle, it is the value added to the Mumbaikar’s relationship with the cops that matter the most. “We try all we can to provide them better service and accessibility and keep them alert and advise them about precautions to be taken during various situations,” he said.
The social media strategist of the Mumbai Police further said the success of their endeavor could be gauged from the fact that their twitter handle has now become the go to platform for alerts on weather, bandhs and train schedules. “Alerts prerogative of other departments like PWD or Railways are now being put on the Mumbai Police handle. This shows the trust we have gained of the people,” she said.
While the police department has got sensitive to the requirements and pressing needs of the people, the engagement has also led citizens to understand the conditions in which the policemen work and the sincerity they put. “I don’t think any government department or institution has such a close day-to-day interaction with the people,” she added.
However, everything has not been hunky dory for the social media team and some of its tweets have coughed up criticism from netizens, even though the issues may be directly not related to them. For example, in June they came up with a tweet showing a clip of Tom Cruise from a scene in Mission Impossible: Fallout, asking users to not try out stunts. However, the department got trolled for the city’s pothole-filled roads.
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) August 23, 2018
“Many people don’t understand that some of the problems they flag to us are the responsibility of the Regional Transport Office or PWD. So, we keep in touch with the departments and forward the complaints,” Pandey said.
Since Twitter is real-time, the pressure of taking prompt action is immense, she said, but the complaints are taken seriously. “So when someone makes a complaint, we send them to the BMC and a complaint number is also generated and sent to the person who tweets to us. The idea is not to criticize or show down other departments but facilitate access to citizens,” she stated.
Pop culture and Netflix references form the crux of the Mumbai Police’s tweets, with Pandey reasoning that it is movie and cricket what keeps Indians together. “Netflix and Bollywood is what appeals to today’s youngsters. However, it’s not that we do content only on a film’s positive sides. We also point out through our tweets the differences between the real and reel life,” she said.
Besides road safety, drug menace and crime against women, the Mumbai Police has also woken up to the threat of fake news following multiple mob lynchings across various states in the past six months. Recently, the Mumbai Police account put out a tweet, saying “some ‘forwards’ take the mankind backward instead of forward”.
Acknowledging the problem, Bharti said while social media is here to stay, the department had a multi-pronged strategy to combat the fake news menace. “We intend to minimise its disadvantages by creating awareness about it on a regular basis, emphasize on such instances being reported and ensure lawful action is taken after due verification,” he said.
Calling the trend of other city police departments joining Twitter following the success of the Mumbai Police a sort of “movement”, Pandey said maximum support and maximum awareness has become the guiding force of the social media team in Maximum City.