“I am not sure if you follow me on Twitter. If you did, you’d see the sort of interactions I have,” says 55-year-old MN Reddi, hurrying into a car that’s waiting to rush him to the airport from a Lower Parel five-star where he has just wrapped up a talk on using Twitter to be on top of his city, Bengaluru.
MN Reddi says he got on to Twitter after being prompted by his daughter and son-in-law. PIC/Shadab Khan
When he took over as police commissioner last year from Raghavendra H Auradkar, he decided to catch up with fellow citizens of the country’s IT capital by getting onto the micro-blogging site. In fact, his is the first police team in the country to try the experiment. “It’s not just me. My DCPs and ACPs also use Twitter for policing,” he says, juggling two cell phones while we share the 45-minute ride with him.
Reddi has realised that the move has helped him understand his metro from a location perspective. For instance, he is regularly tipped off about areas where streetlights aren’t functioning, and which neighbourhood is experiencing a rise in crimes disproportionate to its population.
The end result: Twitter is assisting Reddi and his team solve cases. A company that ‘offered’ jobs at a price was raided in October 2014, and a prostitution racket busted around the same time. “We first heard of both cases online. Citizens tagged us on the tweets and we followed them up,” he says, adding that being able to trace the original message to see if it’s a false report or a rumour-monger at work is an added advantage.
While the Bengaluru police commissioner's official handle was operational since 2012, it was only last August that Reddi decided to use it actively. “Initially, to popularise it in an effort to get everyone in the know, we advertised through a variety of mediums. It helped that reports appeared on our progress, and that we were adding followers every day,” he smiles.
While his team is on other social media (Facebook) and use instant messaging service Whatsapp in a citizen’s watch initiative, Reddi finds Twitter, with its 140-character limit, most effective when taking in complaints or sending a message out to his city.
Introducing transparency, something the police is often accused of ignoring, has been easy as well. “I usually tag the concerned DCP on a complaint, so the complainant knows I have acknowledged him and action is meant to be taken.” Unlike some public figures, Reddi handles the account himself, and much like everyone else, browses his feed when travelling or taking a break. When action needs a formal complaint, Reddi says they call in the complainant to formally register an FIR.
While he admits to the pressure of delivering results instantly, he calls it healthy pressure while being able to establish a real connect with citizens.
But there cons too. Everyone’s up for scrutiny, including the police themselves. A picture of a policeman taking a bribe went viral and when cops admitting online to paucity of manpower. But, it’s par for the course. The guilty cop was suspended and the city’s Twitterati offered solutions for dealing with shortage of staff, including pitching in themselves.
The popularity of Reddi’s move is catching on.
Last month, Hyderabad police chief M Mahendar Reddy, who is also a friend, asked for advice on joining in. “The next morning, I tweeted our interaction, and the post went viral. Bengaluru has several residents who are originally from Hyderabad, and they replied saying they loved the idea. I let Reddy know that his people wanted him online.”
M Mahendar Reddy did debut on Twitter, although his inspiration isn’t sure how active he is.
We reach the airport and Reddi readies to get off. He asks us to send over a link to this article when published.
“On Twitter?” we ask. “No, email,” he says. Then, after a brief thought, he adds, “Okay, why not? Twitter will do too.”