"Seatbelt check on Highway 1, near Gaglardi exit."
"Radar in Burnaby, southbound on Kensington at Sprott."
These tweets are showing up more often, as people discover that more knowledge is empowering. As quickly as police set up a traffic enforcement campaign on local streets, people are using social media to tweet the location to warn people about what may be up the road.
With information like this so readily available via Smartphones, is it a good thing? A recent discussion on Twitter has led to differing opinions on what should and shouldn't be tweeted.
One of the most popular traffic tweeters is @AM730Traffic, which will mention radar and seatbelt check locations, but not impaired driving check-stop locations.
"We DO NOT EVER mention check-stops" said a series of Jan. 16 tweets from @AM730Traffic. "Drinking and driving check or a truck inspection . we never mention. Police want seatbelt/cellphone checks mentioned."
Burnaby and New Westminster police officials have a slightly differing view on this issue. Sgt. Diana McDaniel of the New Westminster Police Department said she sees a distinction between people tweeting the location of speed enforcement/distracted driving/seatbelt locations as com-pared to CounterAttack impaired driving locations.
"For speed or intersection enforcement locations or distracted driving checks, I would agree that that is more of a public awareness issue, so we wouldn't have as much of a problem if that stuff was being put out in social media," said McDaniel. "However, if the use of social media is allowing people to avoid detection for certain dangerous behaviours, then we would not be supportive.
As a general rule, we would not be supportive of people tweeting our roadblock locations, as it may result in subjects who are impaired taking active steps to avoid those roadblocks and putting the public at greater risk."
McDaniel said anecdotal evidence from people who know about speed traps and distracted driving locations suggests they will change their behaviour, either by slowing down or putting the cellphone away, and that's what police are trying to achieve anyway.
But with people trying to avoid a CounterAttack roadblock, avoiding the police doesn't solve the problem of people driving while impaired.
Cpl. Dave Reid, media spokesperson for the Burnaby RCMP, said he doesn't differentiate between roadblocks set up by police.
"I have no problem with people tweeting out locations of either (category)," said Reid. "For us, it's a matter of publicizing that police are out there doing their job."
Reid said Burnaby officers are acutely aware of people who try to avoid CounterAttack roadblocks and have adjusted accordingly.
"We see the U-turns, and we are ready for that to happen," he said.
As for traffic and speed enforcement locations being tweeted, Reid said police also keep track of what's being put out via social media.
"If someone wants to tweet out that we're doing speed enforcement on Canada Way, I can go to another part of the city to monitor speed," said Reid. "It actually assists us because we can modify behaviour in more than one area at the same time."
Reid said perhaps the bigger issue is that there's little the police can do to stop people from tweeting anything and everything. McDaniel agreed that the genie may be out of the bottle.
"We realize we don't have any real control over people tweeting our locations for roadblocks," said McDaniel. "There may be some benefit, as people may make the decision not to drive at all if they know we are out there. www.twitter.com/AlfieLau