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Statement: “We put crime information out on Twitter,” Executive Assistant Police Chief David Ramirez said during a Sept. 12 interview on KPBS.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: During San Diego’s massive blackout and telecommunications logjam last week, the online social networking website called Twitter became a hub for public announcements.

Through Twitter, county officials told residents to use text messages instead of landlines and cell phones. City officials warned residents to boil their water because some areas may’ve been contaminated. Sheriff Bill Gore reassured residents that the jails still had power. And San Diego Gas & Electric, the region’s electricity provider, posted regular updates throughout the blackout.

“This was the biggest Twitter event we ever had,” Mike Niggli, SDG&E’s president and COO, said at a press conference Friday.

Ramirez, San Diego’s No. 2 cop, attended the same press event and reflected on Niggli’s comments in an interview with KPBS Monday.

“There was so much information put out about the power outage and the fact that you had to boil water and this (and that) in different areas. A lot of that was put out on Twitter and we do the same. We put crime information out on Twitter,” Ramirez said.

But the Police Department doesn’t tweet.

As we’ve previously explained, San Diego police aren’t using Twitter like other major law enforcement agencies. The department planned to begin using Twitter for public announcements this year, but the project is now a couple of months overdue.

The department’s official Twitter handle is @SanDiegoPD and police have yet to tweet from it. The account has 56 followers. Most include news reporters and police department staff.

In an email, Ramirez said he had been referring to the department’s close partnership with San Diego County Crime Stoppers, a nonprofit group that uses Twitter to distribute crime information to the public. Ramirez said an officer provides information to Crime Stoppers and someone at the nonprofit posts it to the organization’s Twitter account (@sdcrimestoppers).

Though the department hasn’t used its own Twitter account for public announcements, Ramirez said his statement was accurate because crime information still reaches people through outside organizations and the personal Twitter accounts of department employees.

Paul Cooper, the police chief’s legal and policy adviser, and Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long have tweeted crime information from their personal accounts in the past. Cooper announced a police hotline during the blackout. Long announced an attempted kidnapping in Clairemont Mesa in May.

In an interview, Cooper said Ramirez had also been referring to the department’s use of Nixle, another social networking website, to release crime information to the public. The department last used Nixle more than two months ago.

Our definition for Barely True says the statement must contain an element of truth but critical context is absent that may significantly alter its impression. It fits Ramirez’s statement.

Ramirez said police put crime information on Twitter, but the department’s use of Twitter is indirect or infrequent at best. Ramirez compared the Police Department’s use of Twitter to SDG&E, but the two approach social media differently. SDG&E uses an official account to make direct public announcements. The Police Department relies on others to distribute information.

Crime Stoppers is a separate organization that tweets crime information from law enforcement agencies across the county. On Twitter, it operates similarly to local news media. Police provide information to Crime Stoppers and local news media, who then communicate it to the public.

Though Cooper and Long have tweeted crime information, it rarely happens. Cooper primarily uses his account for personal reasons or to comment on local news. Long has tweeted nine times since May, mentioning the department’s interest in social media more often than crime information.

Because the department provides information that ends up on Twitter, the statement contains an element of truth. But the department’s dormant Twitter account and reliance on others to distribute crime information through Twitter are critical pieces of context that may significantly alter the statement’s impression.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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