Police dispatchers responded to calls ranging from shots fired to rambunctious squirrels Friday during an eight-hour “virtual ride-along” with the Evanston Police Department on Twitter.
Almost all emergency calls received by the 911 dispatch center between 3 and 11 p.m. Friday were posted on Evanston’s official Twitter account, @CityOfEvanston. The call center is located at EPD headquarters, 1454 Elmwood Ave.
Deputy Chief Jeffrey Jamraz said the call center receives anywhere from 150 to 300 calls daily and that the “tweet-along” encouraged dialogue between the citizens and the police force that exists to protects them.
“This is a good way for us to engage the community so they can see the types of calls we handle,” Jamraz said. “The community can learn about what we do in here every day, like how we take a phone call, how we dispatch the call and how the officers respond to the complaints.”
Jamraz said 11 patrol cars were working beats in Evanston during the tweet-along. An undisclosed number of detectives and juvenile officers were also working, as were neighborhood enforcement team officers and the problem solving team, he said.
City spokesperson Eric Palmer said Friday’s event also provided Evanston residents with a new way to connect with the city through a convenient medium.
“We’ve been playing with Twitter for quite some time now and we just hit 2,800 followers, which is pretty good,” Palmer said. “This gives us yet another opportunity to look at different ways to interconnect with the public and the taxpayers in our community by using the different tools that they are used to using.”
In total, 56 calls were tweeted and two arrests were made over the eight-hour period, according to a tweet from the city. Palmer said calls relating to domestic violence or child abuse would not be published.
Dispatchers responded to two reports of shots fired, one in Chicago and the other near Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue in Evanston.
“Shots fired calls received, 1600 block of Juneway in Chicago, our dispatch center often gets calls from border incidents when they use their cells,” the city tweeted.
Some of the other 911 calls included nine traffic stops, five nuisance complaints and three reports of graffiti.
A feisty squirrel ended up becoming the main suspect for what was originally reported to 911 dispatchers as a “residential burglary.”
“We got a call for residential burglary on 1000 Dewey Ave. but it turned out a squirrel just got in the house and ransacked it,” the city tweeted.
Adela Hernandez, the city’s citizen engagement coordinator, personally handled the tweeting of 911 calls.
Hernandez started working for the city in February 2006, one year after she graduated from Northwestern. She said running the city’s Twitter account is “one of the best perks” of her job and that the event on Friday went smoothly.
“It’s really cool that I’ve been able to shape the information that gets to the people that follow us on Twitter,” she said. “We’re getting a good amount of calls and some really positive feedback from our followers. There’s a lot of buzz around this initiative, which is great.”
In addition to posting the details of the 911 calls, Hernandez responded to questions directed at the city posed by Twitter users and also tweeted photographs from inside the call center.
“One of the main reasons why people follow us on Twitter is because we keep them engaged,” she said. “We get a lot of different types of questions all the time, and it’s important for people to know that we’re listening and that Twitter is just another way for people to reach out to the city when they need assistance.”
Erika Storlie, the city’s interim citizen engagement division manager, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz came up with the idea “after he saw Seattle do a similar thing.” She added the city has been trying to move on from “old-school” methods of government communications.
“We’ve made a concerted effort since late 2009 to really utilize the tools that everyone else is using in order to communicate with our residents,” Storlie said. “So it’s been an established effort where we’re really trying to communicate with residents in a way that they really want to be communicated with.”
Jamraz added he hoped citizen engagement with EPD did not end after the conclusion of the special Twitter event.
“This is a good start when citizens can see the text of the calls coming through via Twitter,” he said. “If people want to, they can stop by any time they want.”