This has been quite the interesting week from the walls and computer screens of my office. I’ve learned a lot this week…mainly about Twitter and how it is rapidly becoming my weapon of choice to interact with the community. I’ve been using GPD’s Twitter since I became the PIO last July, but really only as a one-way notification system. Who knew that a simple tweet by J-School Professor Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) could change that completely. (I know he’s going to critique my writing…)
Let me share a secret with you. There are three main groups of travelers in our fair city. Vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. They don’t always get along. Each group has their expectations, but I can guarantee you that if you move from group to group your expectation will change.
If you were sleeping under a virtual rock this week, then you missed Prof. Spiker tweeting about receiving a ticket for crossing the street against a crosswalk signal. (http://storify.com/brucefloyd/jaywalking-enforcement-in-gainesville)
Granted – he was walking in the marked crosswalk…but against the light. Maybe it was a one-time thing, or maybe it’s a daily thing – who knows. His luck was against him that day because we were operating a special detail under the Gainesville High Visibility Pedestrian Enforcement Program. It’s a grant-funded program made possible by FDOT.
If you remember early this year, we had 3 pedestrians struck and seriously injured while crossing SW 62nd Blvd. Those incidents sparked a huge movement by GPD, the City Commission and Public Works to enhance safety in all city crosswalks, but specifically the one on 62nd. Once the FDOT grant was secured, we began running details that exclusively targeted vehicle drivers that failed to yield to pedestrians. It got a lot of local media coverage, and we even did a Police Beat episode on it.
The feedback from the program was mixed. Pedestrians were overjoyed. Drivers cited were pissed and wanted to shift the spotlight. “Why don’t you cite the pedestrians too? You know, the ones that cross against the lights or don’t use crosswalks?” Well, we did. And guess what – some of those pedestrians got pissed too. “It’s not a big deal” they said. “Why are you writing me a ticket for just crossing the street?” Remember what I said earlier about the three different groups? And guess what? Some of them wanted the spotlight pushed elsewhere again. “Those Jimmy John’s bikers need to be cited.” I forwarded that concern to our Traffic Safety Team and got a rapid response that they were in fact citing them also and our Traffic Sergeant would call JJ’s management to address the issue.
That’s when I realized something…GPD had just used Twitter to interact with a citizen who had a concern, which was quickly addressed.
It’s a completely different world now from when most of us grew up. People are able to send a 140-character (yes, character) message to the police…and we’re gonna respond.
Is “Jaywalking” the crime of the century? Certainly not. Is it annoying to drivers? Probably. It’s probably just as annoying to pedestrians that vehicles don’t always yield to them in crosswalks. Is it dangerous? Sure. Earlier this week we had a pedestrian killed as she crossed a busy Newberry Road outside of a crosswalk. Is what Professor Spiker did the same as what the fatal victim did? According to Florida statutes – yes. In real life? Probably not. Did this Twitter exchange change the behavior of some other pedestrians that may have followed the exchange? I hope so.
To Professor Spiker – I publicly thank you for being such a good sport during this exchange. Your bad luck that day has helped GPD become more seated in the Twitterverse, and ultimately more accessible to the citizens of Gainesville.
It’s a new day, folks. @GainesvillePD is full speed ahead on Twitter. www.twitter.com/GainesvillePD