The Cop Behind the Philly Police Twitter Account Tells All
Last week, the Philadelphia Police Department made national news after tweeting a tongue-in-cheek job offer to Kanye West, and that’s just one of many playful social media moments that have come from the digital arm of the PPD. The person responsible? Sergeant Eric Gripp. Here, Gripp tells us why he’s afraid to check the department’s SnapChat account and what you have to do for him to block you on Twitter.
You do have the most fun job in the PPD, right?
Well, flying the helicopter is pretty cool. But then also a lot more stress. You can fly into buildings. This is pretty much a dream job for me, combining a lot of the things I like doing: Goofing around on the Internet, looking at memes all day.
Were you ever a, you know, regular cop?
I went through the Police Academy in 2001, started a few weeks after 9/11. I spent a few years in South Philly and then North Philly and then wound up here. During my time in the 22nd [District], I crossed paths with Lieutenant [John] Stanford. I was playing in a cover band, and social media was a big part of promoting. One of the things I mentioned to him was how terrible ours was … Well, that might not be fair. It was early. I told him that government entities weren’t doing a good job using social media to communicate with the public at large, and when he became PIO [Public Information Officer], he gave me a call. You were talking all that shit. Let’s see if you can put it into practice.
Wait, a cover band?
Yes, Huge Jackman. I played bass and guitar. It’s all about marketing. A lot of people would show up expecting to find Hugh Jackman. But Huge Jackman is no more.
Is it just you behind the accounts?
Yes, for the main ones. We also have 21 district accounts and three to five officers per district trained and authorized to operate those accounts. And then there are 54 legacy accounts, FirstNameLastName, like Joe Murray. We’re getting away from that model, but those accounts are grandfathered in.
Was Kanye your biggest hit?
Well, a lot of people are calling about it, but as far as actual shares and numbers, the Drake video was one of the bigger ones.
What was your biggest miss?
Most of the big misses, no one knows about. I’m all excited about something and I put it out there and it gets two retweets and then disappears into thin air. Other things that I think of as filler just go wild. When I first got here, if i made a bad fart joke, I would get thousands of retweets. Now, I need a dancing bear on a unicycle to get three.
My biggest miss in terms of people just not getting it was the “Saved by the Bell” thing. It should have been obvious that it wasn’t a real recruitment video or that it was our best Photoshopping effort, but then you have AdWeek saying how could a major police department put together something so terrible.
You mentioned retweets. Twitter really sucks, doesn’t it? I mean, compared to what we thought it might do.
I like Facebook a lot more than Twitter. Twitter, we have to be on it. We got on Twitter because Facebook got into a situation where it’s not cool anymore. Let’s face it: Your mom is on Facebook. Kids don’t want to be there, so they moved to Twitter, and now that your mom is on Twitter, they moved to Instagram. And SnapChat. We’re just here to say reach out if you need to.
The Philadelphia Police Department has a SnapChat account?
We don’t really use it right now. People can get to us if they want to, but I’m not really pleased with the ways they are getting to us on that. You can imagine what’s coming across there.
Hmm …I’m not sure. Can you elaborate?
God help me. Nothing that would be fit to print. Well, I have received a couple of legitimate requests for help, like a person complaining about a neighbor pooping on their lawn. But then there are the people who like to do the drive-by insults, and they do that with pictures and videos on SnapChat. You can imagine what some of those are. It can be hard to look at sometimes.
Ah, trolls. You must be inundated.
If you are going to accept praise, you also have to accept critics. I try not to go back and forth. Listen, if someone has a valid complaint — like if someone says it took the cops two hours to get there — we want to address that. But the you suck and burn in hell people, it’s just the nature of the business.
How long is your blocked list?
It’s very, very, very rare that we block somebody. Anybody who looks at our feeds will realize that we let a lot of things go on. But if you go to a thread to purposely derail it, especially a thread about a missing tender-age child, you’re definitely going to get a warning. We try to give them every warning we can. Honestly, I haven’t blocked more than five people, not counting the spambots obviously.
We only read about the Drake video and Kanye tweet, but I’m guessing the vast majority of your time is spent on far less silly stuff.
It is. Probably 95 percent is dealing with real serious issues. Safety alerts, individuals we are looking for, missing persons. The Kanye video gets more eyeballs on us, and maybe that new person will recognize the missing person or the bank robber.
Staying with the more serious work, what was the biggest day in that sense?
The Center City building collapse. That was only a few weeks after I came over. I remember sitting and watching the Twitter feeds right after it happened. People were saying terrorism, that a bomb wen off. Once we had a reasonable idea that it was an industrial accident — this was within minutes — we got that information out there and I watched the rumor mill slow down in real time. And then throughout the day, Lt. Stanford was out there at the scene, feeding me information, and it was all about getting timely information out to people. It stops a lot of worry and bad rumors from spreading.
Do the higher-ups ever come down on you for some of the sillier content?
There have been several times, but it’s been generally positive. But for example, the “Saved by the Bell” thing … We weren’t getting any overtly public criticism, but internally, I had to explain it to people who just didn’t get it, and it turned into an “agree to disagree” situation. There were times when Commissioner Ramsey said I don’t get what the hell you’re doing, but it’s working, so keep it up. I have a long leash.
How often do you hear, “Why are my tax dollars being spent on this?!”
Every day. It’s one of those things. But what argument can I really make? Should I pull out analytics that show that every time we do a Kanye thing or Drake video, the next three crime videos have 400 percent growth? Nobody is interested in that. I just let our supporters handle those people for us. It’s the nature of police work. But I think sometimes people think there’s a whole staff of people being paid to do this, but it’s usually just me at home in my underwear.
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.