Police department tweets that it arrested NFL player…that it didn’t

Like many police departments, the Dallas Police Department has an active Twitter profile that it uses to give safety tips, distribute news information and keep people informed about criminal activities in the city.  Earlier this week, however, DPD found itself on the wrong end of a Twitter scandal when they erroneously tweeted out that they had arrested Denver Bronco Aqib Talib.  They had, in fact, arrested his brother, Yaqub.

To make a long story short, Yaqub and others were involved in an altercation at a night club.  The incident started inside the club but moved outside, resulting in the police being called.  When police confronted Yaqub, he said that he played in the NFL, something that bystanders also stated.  Yaqub was ultimately arrested for public intoxication.  Police officers thought they had arrested an NFL player (based on Yaqub’s earlier assertations), which was relayed to the communications supervisor.  The supervisor then misunderstood Yaqub’s name and googled it, finding his brother Aqib.  A series of tweets was then sent out, announcing Aqib’s arrest:

 @dallaspd arrest Denver Bronco Aqib Talib for public intox after he was throwing bottles causing a disturbance. Talib was danger to self

…and others. Talib was intoxicated in a club causing a disturbance.

#BREAKING Talib was arrested at about 1:45 this morning after being escorted out of Club Syn in 1200 block of Main St. #NFL

#BREAKING Talib was taken to the Dallas Marshall’s detention center where public intox prisoners are held and processed. #nfl

And then, those tweets were deleted, with an apology tweet sent out, that was also deleted:

“#BREAKING CORRECTION – Yaqub Talib 31yrs old was arrested. My apologies to Aqib Talib. Original information reported was incorrect.”

As I’ve written about before, creative and competent use of social media by police departments can be vital to good public outreach.  With 16% of American adults now on Twitter, it is foolish for any department to avoid using it, provided they have the appropriate resources and manpower.  However, as this case clearly demonstrates, it is better to be right than to be fast.  It seems like there was a process breakdown here more than anything else: Had officers simply given the right name to the communications officer, this may never have happened.  This case shows the need to ensure that your social media polices have a built-in mechanism that allows for information to be verified and checked before it is sent out.

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