In the three years since its debut, Mumbai Police Twitter presence has grown manifold; as a Social Samosa reporter visits ground zero, we share a slice of the action from the headquarters.
Overlooking the hustle-bustle of the Crawford Market in South Mumbai is one of the safest spots in the city — the Mumbai Police Headquarters. It’s nestled at a stone throws away from the iconic British-era duo of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Heritage can be felt in the air as one walks past the JJ School of Arts in between, as we experienced on a Saturday morning in an attempt to unravel the mystery around the Mumbai Police Twitter presence.
Police personnel have a sense of aura around them that makes them justifiably intimidating and in some extremes, unapproachable. To this extent, not much can be done from within the garb of khaki. It is a mind game after all.
Twitter, however, is a whole other story. Here, people don’t think much before tagging the police handle in random conversations, maybe not exactly, but almost like a friend.
“We feel that the gap between the police and the people has decreased,” an officer tells us, adding that it has also led to an increase in expectations. According to the Mumbai Police, their response to online complaints is quick and effective and that they are able to disseminate information and updates on a regular basis.
Keeping people informed has helped the police gain credibility-related brownie points, encouraging people to connect, and engage in conversations. Ever wondered what happens at the backend?
Mumbai Police Twitter Cell
Complete with huge screens that help monitor various CCTV footage in the city, computers more than one can count on fingers and old-school landlines entwined in a network that helps keep the city safe would probably be a decent description of the Mumbai Police control room. All around, cops are either busy taking calls, documenting conversations or taking a breather in between.
Bifurcated with the help of glass doors, the main control room at the Mumbai Police headquarters has several sections, one of which is the designated spot for the Mumbai Police Twitter Cell. This is the backend of everything we credit them for, with regards to their presence on the microblogging site.
Work happens here in three shifts, where six personnel are involved in monitoring the incoming tweets and handling the responses. The team, which includes four police and one traffic police constable, is headed by an inspector-rank supervisor.
Senior officials are looped in from time to time, depending on the kind of complaint received. The functioning of the Twitter Cell is overseen by Jt CP Law & Order and DCP Operations, giving the process a three-layered approach.
The five constables that monitor the flow of tweets have to read about 50 to 60 tweets an hour on a regular day.
The number increases to about 100-120 an hour if it’s raining or the festival season is on. About 70 to 80% of these tweets are about traffic violations, which is why every shift has one traffic constable on duty. These officials ensure filter tweets, act on the relevant ones, forward complaints to senior officials and accelerate responses. The traffic division’s multimedia cell monitor action and the idea is to have an action report out in an hour or two at max.
Every single tweet where the Mumbai Police’s official handle is tagged is read by the Twitter Cell team. However, they only reply to the relevant ones. Though the team told us about the factors involved in determining whether the tweet is legitimate, it can be summarised that most of the process is based on indecipherable ‘police personnel instincts’ that help these officials cut through the clutter of incoming tweets. “Sometimes, people tag us in conversations between friends. We read through but ignore such tweets,” an official tells us.
If the issue at hand doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Police, relevant calls are made and the complaint is forwarded to the designated agencies. This can be seen in replies by the police on complaints related to the suburban railway network of Mumbai.
There have been instances where women tag the police in panic when they see that their coach doesn’t have khaki personnel after 9 pm. While the tweet reply tags the appropriate railway handle and lists helpline numbers, calls are also made, depending on the urgency in such cases.
One of the most interesting things is how the same team is responsible for tweeting from two accounts — Mumbai Police and Commissioner of Mumbai Police. Why did they make two accounts then? A Twitter Cell official tells us that the intention was to create a distinction between interactions and information. So, while the Mumbai Police handle is used to give information and respond to complaints, the Commissioner’s handle is reserved exclusively for information dissemination.
Presently, the Mumbai Police does not have separate handles for each police station in its jurisdiction but uses other channels of communication between senior officials of each station. Action taken on each tweet is documented by the Twitter Cell.
Explaining the process, Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Pranay Ashok said, “Over the last three years, we have been on a continuous learning path which has enabled us to fine-tune our responses and improve the overall communication mechanism.”
“Twitter is an open medium with its own advantages and pitfalls. While, we do get trolled sometimes, but on the other hand, we get a lot of encouragement and appreciation on a daily basis. We always welcome constructive criticism to improve our services,” he adds.
At present, the team only responds to the tweets they are tagged in — when they are approached. They don’t use social media tools to monitor keywords.
Mumbai Police’s Twitter handle has become famous for memes but they sure have a lot more in store. Won’t you say?