A local police department has called upon Twitter to fight crime and spread cheer.
The Upper Darby Police Department started using the hashtag #udhero this week with the intention of establishing a positive trend and recognizing good deeds by local heroes.
When a school day ended earlier this week, the department passed out 75 T-shirts to students who have done something good. In addition, followers can tweet their good deeds for a social shout-out and, possibly, a T-shirt.
"The only prerequisite to get a T-shirt is that you can't do anything illegal or get arrested wearing that T-shirt," said Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood. "The kids like shaking hands and taking pictures with them (the officers)."
Chitwood has become a rock star of sorts to the young legion of @UDPolice Twitter followers.
"It's funny we have the police department on Twitter. People laugh at it," said Upper Darby High School student Jackie Achtert. "We all think it's great they are on there. They keep the community informed."
It's not all fun and games, however. Fighting crime is serious work.
"One day we are giving out T-shirts (at the high school), and are locking up a 16-year-old kid for 81 bags of heroin and $716 in cash," said Chitwood. "We tweet things happening and are trying to get in touch with people."
Area businesses sponsored the T-shirt giveaway, so there's no cost to taxpayers. Chitwood said he'll continue to give out the T-shirts as long as they have sponsors.
Earlier this week, Achtert said students starting tweeting the Upper Darby Police Department asking why there were cops flying by the school.
There was an incident which resulted in a minor being arrested.
The @UDPolice handle has drawn attention because of its snarky, quirky tweets and comedic, crime-fighting approach.
"Social media has become very popular and every agency uses it differently," said Nancy Kolb of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "We really see community policing turn to modern policing. Departments are meeting people where they are and engaging them were they are and their virtual communities."
Cops are people, too, and humor can help humanize the officers, according to Kolb.
Chitwood believes Twitter is a "very positive method of communication" and he even joined Twitter last Sunday through his own account.
His first tweet: "My world has changed again!!!! Now learning to "Tweet". Is this a tweet? Stay tuned......"
The Upper Darby Police Department started a Twitter account in March. But with no money in the budget to hire a social media manager, a cop with a current workload was charged with picking up the posting tasks. That officer has done so with personality, answering mentions and messages.
The man behind the tweets is a secret, a ghost tweeter per say.
The handle has kept followers tuned into the next funny tweet, such as Thursday's tweet: "Male arrested-entered fast food rest and struck victim in face then threatened with knife. He had lost an unrelated fight earlier #soreloser".