Const. Mike Gatto with the Guelph Police Service can't see everything on social media, though he tries to check in as much as he can. After all, Gatto needs to sleep, eat and spend time with his family, just like everyone else.
Gatto is the public information officer for Guelph Police, and the only member of the squad that monitors and posts to the service's Twitter account, @gpsmedia. As a result, Guelph Police are pleading with people to pick up the phone and call when they need police assistance instead of turning to Twitter.
"I do try my best off-hours to keep an eye on things, but it's tough for me, sitting out [on] my back deck when a tweet comes through saying, 'There's an impaired driver on Woolwich street.' Or if I'm out at my son's hockey game or my daughter's dance, I don't have the ability always to call into the station and say, 'You know, I just received this tweet,'" said Gatto.
'We need people to call in. Because tweeting is not going to get you a response.' - Const. Mike Gatto, Guelph Police Service
Police receive tweets informing them of criminal activity once or twice a week, Gatto said. Although that doesn't seem like a high frequency, there are cases where a quick response is required.
A few months ago, someone tweeted at Guelph police because they were concerned someone was harming their children in an apartment. In that case, the person contacting police said they did not have a phone, and Twitter was the best way for them to get in touch with police. Gatto called dispatch to get police on the case.
"If a tweet came through that sounded really serious, I would probably call the station. But the problem is that, if one of these tweets come through and it's a serious situation, I can't guarantee I will see it. And that's the problem with using that at this point," said Gatto.
Police also want more information than can be provided in a 140-character tweet.
"When we take requests for service, we do need to get information from the caller. We need to know who they are, where they're calling from, we've got to get all that kind of information in case we need to then follow up with them afterwards," said Gatto.
It's perhaps not surprising that the public would turn to Twitter to report crimes. People are now used to tweeting at companies to complain about bad customer service or products, and many politicians have had to issue public apologies over poorly-worded tweets.
"We've had everything from impaired drivers, noisy parties, suspicious persons, driving complaints, dogs in cars, you name it, people have tweeted it," said Gatto.
For those who prefer to write in instead of call, Guelph police are investigating a system that would allow residents to contact 911 by text message. But Gatto says it's very early in that process and not to expect the service any time soon.