Image courtesy: Bengaluru City Police On Thursday morning, when Aishwarya Kembhavi hired an auto-rickshaw to Silk Board from Koramangala bus depot, not only did the auto-driver over charge her, but also refused to drop her at the destination. Having had enough of such errant drivers, she decided to pursue the matter and immediately posted her grievance on Bengaluru City Police’s Facebook page. She got a response within two hours stating that her complaint had been forwarded to traffic authorities and action would be initiated. The quick-response system based on online complaints is due the concerted efforts of the Bengaluru police to leverage social media as a tool for citizen engagement and taking swift action after complaints are filed. Image courtesy: Siddhartha Mishra What started off as a small activity to manage a Twitter and Facebook page of the Bengaluru police has now become a full-fledged, 24X7 social media operation. Occupying a swanky room with a big television set used to monitor trends, a 20 member professional team runs the Twitter handle and Facebook page of the Bengaluru City Police, and also monitor the Twitter handle of Commissioner of Police. The success of their engagement has spread like wild fire across the department. Now there are 122 official Twitter accounts of the city police, of which 88 are active. “Every Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) and police station has an official Twitter account, and they remain connected to it,” says DCP Nagendra Kumar who manages the team. In 2013, only one Twitter and Facebook page of the city police was being maintained. When MN Reddi took over as the Commissioner of Police in August 2014, a separate “social media division” was created to address issues in more organized manner and reach out to a larger number of people. "Twitter seems to be the way forward for some of us, police officers, who dare to dream of 'policing @ (at) the speed of thought'!" says Reddi. Image Courtesy: Bengaluru City Police In just over ten months, Reddi’s Twitter handle (@CPBlr) leads the pack of accounts with 2.57 lakh followers, the largest following for any police commissioner in India. The network is also the largest city police network on social media. With 14 of the official Twitter handles verified by Twitter India, the department is trying to get the “blue tick” for every account. According to the team, they receive hundreds of tweets each day addressed to them on various issues, including complaints to do with civic, traffic and water woes. Around 3600 tweets concerning only their department have been segregated from January this year for further action. The team follows a four step “standard operating procedure” for every message/ tweet that is received. The moment any issue is raised either to @CPBlr, the team responds from the handle of Bengaluru City Police handle (@BlrCityPolice) by tagging the concerned DCP/ACP of the region, the inspector or jurisdictional police station. They also tag the commissioner of police to keep him in loop. In case of emergencies, they immediately call the concerned official for quicker measures. The team is also very thorough in its approach. They maintain detailed daily log sheets with details of all the tweets received, the name of “tweet petitioner”, brief explanation of the complaint, to who was it forwarded to and the status of the case. The Commissioner reviews the data regularly to keep a check on the department. Lastly, they take an “action report” from the concerned official which enlists the action taken in accordance with law and also status of the case. “This is important since people say no action is being taken. This helps us ascertain the credibility of the accusation. Also, it puts pressure on the department to deliver faster,” says Lokesh, a constable in the team. Similar procedure is followed for Facebook as well, says Nandini H M, who manages the "Bengaluru City Police" page on Facebook. The page has over 1. 46 likes and receives about 30-50 posts on an average per day related to various issues. Nandini was trained for six months before she was handed over the responsiblity to solely manage the page. DCP Nagendra Kumar. Image courtesy: Siddhartha Mishra The Twitter handles of Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru City Police and Traffic police are part of “Twitter Samvad” which allows them to send three most engaging tweets via SMS. The biggest challenge according to DCP Nagendra is that the volume of tweets that they get, including those not concerning the police department. “We are handling everything from law and order, to crime, traffic problems etc. Lot of information flowing in from the public and we try to address all of it,” he says. The problem of fake or prank tweets also looms large. The team, however, is prepared to tackle them. Apart from preliminary observation of the profile and using their discretion, they have two software programs which help them ascertain the genuineness of the tweet. Few cases have also been booked for misbehaving with police officers and filing false complaints. On days of “bandh” or other such instances, the team plans ahead and tweets every half an hour to update citizens of the situation on ground. For instance, those wanting to venture to different part of the city would enquire police officials about the situation via Twitter, and would receive a swift response. How does one become eligible to be part of the team? “We chose any graduate or post-graduate who has basic technical knowledge,” says the team. So how did the team and the police department become so popular with the citizens in 10 months? “Had we maintained one-way communication, this would not have become a success. We stressed on two-way communication which involved giving immediate response when any issue was raised,” says Lokesh. Their robust functioning has drawn the attention of police departments of other states as well. Recently, a police team each from Hyderabad, Chennai and Uttar Pradesh visited the team to seek guidance on social media interaction. “We are the pioneers,” says Nagendra, beaming with pride, “and we learn from every tweet.” The department is now meticulously planning to expand further and be able to reach out to those on WhatsApp.