Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page?

When a hit-and-run driver mowed down a pedestrian at the intersection of Market and O’Farrell streets in San Francisco on February 25, the police department sent out a call for witnesses on its Facebook page, which has about 3,000 fans.

When a woman wearing nurses’ scrubs stole a wallet and used a pilfered credit card soon after, the Boynton Beach police department posted a photo on its Facebook page – and then tweeted the news release.

Police agencies around the country are turning to social media to get the word out about crime and collect tips from local residents. So why doesn’t Berkeley, a city that has made a practice of democratizing its processes as much as possible, use Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media?

Because the city is still wrestling to formulate a social media policy.

While it might sound simple to throw up a Facebook page, upload a surveillance video to YouTube, or start tweeting about a recent burglary or city council meeting, it’s not, according to Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city’s spokeswoman and its point person on social media.

“Social media opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for communicating with the public which is incredibly exciting,” said Clunies-Ross. “But it does present certain challenges.”

Some of those challenges include making communications open so they comply with public records requirements; making sure that disabled people – including the blind – have equal access to Berkeley’s public pages; and ensuring that the pages are secure and can’t get hacked, she said.

In addition, Facebook and Twitter need to be moderated, which requires significant staff time. While San Francisco has thousands of employees, providing a pool of talent with which to tweet or post, Berkeley is already short-staffed and may soon lay off additional employees, said Clunies-Ross. In short, there’s no one to tweet.

“There are definite resource questions,” she said. “We have to be careful and if, and when we do it, do it right.”

Police Chief Michael Meehan would like his department to start using some form of social media, but he cannot until the City Manager’s office formulates a formal policy. He recently sent Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the police department spokesperson, to southern California to a conference on police and social media to learn what agencies around the country are doing.

“One of my long term goals is to put out more information,” said Chief Meehan. “Social media seems one way to do it.”

Picture of suspected car thief from Berkeley PD’s website.

While Berkeley is not yet using Facebook, it has worked hard to provide extensive information on its website, which is continually being tweaked, said Clunies-Ross. Residents can view city council agendas, get contact information for city employees,  pay parking tickets online, apply for jobs, report potholes and graffiti, look up City Council minutes dating back to 1912,  view Berkeley’s “Most Wanted” criminals on the police department’s web site, and help identify people on the  “Who Are These Suspects? page.”

To ensure privacy, a third-party vendor manages page subscriptions, she said. In addition, many individual city council members, including Susan WengrafLaurie Capitelli, Gordon Wozniak,and Kriss Worthington, as well as Mayor Tom Bates, have their own Facebook pages.

Here is a rundown of how some police departments are using social media:

  • Police in Boca Rotan, Florida have a media manager who writes news articles about crime and posts them on the department’s Facebook page.
  • The police department in Greater Manchester in the UK held a #GMP24 Twitter day where police officers tweeted all the calls for help they received. Individual officers have also tweeted messages, like telling young women how they can protect themselves from a rapist on the prowl.
  • The Vancouver police department held a “Tweet-along” where a patrol officer tweeted throughout one of her night patrol shifts. It also tweets traffic advisories and other breaking news to its 4,000 followers. Vancouver has a YouTube channel and a blog.
  • In late February, Dallas hired a full-time social media coordinator for the police department. The department’s Facebook page has more than 5,500 fans and it has 3,400 followers on Twitter.
  • In December, the Philadelphia police department posted a surveillance video of a man robbing a store on YouTube. Someone left a tip on the department’s Facebook page leading to information on the suspect’s whereabouts.
  • The Bellevue, Nebraska police department has a twitter feed and individual police officers’ tweets feed into it. They also have a Facebook page and a separate page for its K9 unit.

Mayor Bates has 1,632 Facebook friends.

Of course, police agencies have been using social media for years to investigate crimes. Police from Berkeley and other cities have monitored individual Facebook pages of people suspected of being a member of a gang; searched keywords in Twitter, and even “friended” suspects or talked to them in chat rooms, said Sgt Kusmiss.

A recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police of 728 police departments around the country showed that 81% of them used social media for investigations.

And, lest we forget, Berkeley’s mayor does have a Facebook page which is relatively lively with 1,632 friends. Mayor Bates also has a Twitter account. But he has yet to post a single tweet.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Bill

    Who cares i we have a facebook page? I don’t. A easy to navigate web site with e-mail contacts and phone numbers would be great.

  • Sharkey

    The City of Berkeley’s website & online support is atrocious.

    It took me weeks to get information on meeting local energy conservation ordinances, and the City employees who I dealt with were stubborn, unhelpful, and downright rude.

    I eventually had to hire a contracting group to get the correct information and file the paperwork because the City refused to work with me on the issue.

  • Maureen Burke

    The police officer for our area sends out email updates and that’s plenty for me. Lots of people hate Facebook and Twitter, including myself. For once I can’t complain about the City of Berkeley on an issue.

  • Timely post – Just the other day I sent this to our neighborhood group, and posted it on our blog. Thinking about it, each neighborhood should develop their own twitter hashtag ([# + the name or topic you’re filtering .. #Berkeley and #BerkeleySide are two examples) which let you filter the twitter stream to view only tweets with that tag).

    Twitter and Facebook are essential means of instant communications – perfect for alerts, alarms and updates, particularly if you program your phones to receive important ones as text messages.


    Prepare for Berkeley’s next earthquake – set up Facebook & Twitter accounts for redundant means of communications

    I recommend everyone set up Twitter and Facebook accounts as redundant means of communications.

    We were watching TV Thursday night when a late-breaking news alert about Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami popped onto the iPad … pretty sure the news alert came from via Twitter Account. We found out about the event moments after it happened.

    Both Twitter and Facebook let you connect with lots of friends who can connect with their friends, so you can send out a Twitter Tweet or Facebook Post to let them know you’re safe.

    Land line, cell phone, internet access might all go down at the same time, but having several means of communication increases the probability of being able to communicate with the outside world.

    And if you’re looking for a way to use up lots of time … Twitter and Facebook will let you do that too.




  • Voxhumana

    Well, if it’s left to the City Manager’s office, it won’t happen. Besides not being a priority, I doubt anyone in the City Manager’s office wants transparency. Prove me wrong. Please.

  • Bruce Love

    It would be “funny” to watch the city spend 2 years and umpteen dollars rolling out their “Facebook and Twitter presence” — carefully planned and supporting software designed on the Berkeley side — only to then have Facebook and Twitter change their features and interfaces in ways that invalidates a lot of that work.

    That’s a problem you get when you try to rely on a “free” service from companies that aren’t committed to the needs of providing a BPD / public channel, per se.

    Maureen’s fondness for Email helps illustrate how you avoid that problem. Email programs come and go and add and subtract features all the time BUT for the most part, email is email no matter what program you use to send or receive it. No one company gets to wake up tomorrow and say “New rule, from now on, all emails will have Topic lines instead of Subject lines and all Topics must begin with the letter Q ……”

    Twitter and Facebook routinely wake up and declare “new rules”. It’s part of their life blood. It’s built in to what they do.

  • Sharkey

    Why would it take 2 years and umpteen dollars to do Twitter and Facebook? Tweenagers who can barely tie their own shoes seem to be able to do it, so why does it need to be a big ordeal for the City to do it?

    This doesn’t have to be something that’s up-to-the-minute and maintained 24 hours a day. Find an employee who already works for the city (probably from the PR department) and uses these services and schedule a few hours a week for them to make brief updates about upcoming events.

    There are programs out there that allow you to simultaneously update Facebook, Twitter, & Blogs, so you don’t even have to waste time composing something for each specific format.

  • Sharkey

    @ Ira Serkes — Great post. Interesting stuff.

    Are there any maps out there that plot out the different neighborhoods in Berkeley by name and location? I sometimes get confused about what to call a lot of the different areas in the flatlands.

  • Maureen Burke

    Facebook is the number one enemy of privacy:

    I don’t think either Facebook or Twitter is an essential means of instant communication.

  • Neighborhood Maps

    Bernt Wahl and I talked about that at #REBCSF [There’s that Twitter Hash # Tag again] a few years ago; time to revisit it.

    Berkeley Convention & Visitors Bureau puts out a great map of Berkeley


    I’ve annotated it with neighborhood info and my North Berkeley Food Tour, but want to get their permission before posting it online.


  • Bruce Love

    @Sharky, Re: “There are programs out there that allow you to simultaneously update Facebook, Twitter, & Blogs, so you don’t even have to waste time composing something for each specific format.”

    Just composing stuff and pushing it out isn’t the main problem. You’re right that if they can make something like an RSS feed out of their main way of publishing stuff, it’s trivial to write a script that will forward it to Twitter, Facebook, etc. They’d still face problems doing that — hence the “go slow” attitude the article mentions.

    Mentioned in the article: do they have to moderate Facebook comments? Are there ADA issues? Beyond that, how do they integrate tracking Facebook “messages” and @bpd tweets into their general public face? How many hours should Sgt. Kusmiss spend on it? What happens if someone tries to get BDP help by sending an emergency message over one of those channels? :-)

    re: “Why would it take 2 years and umpteen dollars to do Twitter and Facebook? Tweenagers who can barely tie their own shoes seem to be able to do it, so why does it need to be a big ordeal for the City to do it?”

    Well, your typical tweenager is in a hurry because he or she is are dealing with life and death issues, overall public safety, civil liberties, accessibility law, liability limitation strategies, departmental budgets, and citizen privacy concerns :-)

    Oh, wait, that’s backwards.

  • Sharkey

    You can easily have a Facebook page that does not allow comments to be posted by the general public.
    There is no reason or expectation that the City should be responsible for responding to tweets directed at them.
    There are browsers and other tools that allow blind people to navigate the web – no need for the City to do anything.
    Assuming that it will be used for life-and-death situations is pretty dumb – what do they think happens with those situations now?

    The City is making this more complicated than it needs to be which, unfortunately, is par for the course.

  • Bryan Garcia

    Haha, wow, looks like the Luddites are out in full force on this one!

  • The City of Berkeley can dedicate a Twitter account just for tweeting (gosh, I dislike using that verb as much as hearing someone say “my bad” … but I digress) broadcasting alerts.

    Simple Protocol –

    @Twitter Name + Berkeley (for Berkeley Filters) + #Berkeley (for Berkeley # Tag) + Alert

    as in …

    @WhateverNameTheyUse Berkeley #Berkeley Alert [and the rest of their 140 characters]

    Would take less time than it takes for me to post this.

    And we’d know about emergencies, fire or police actions as soon as the City feels it’s appropriate to send out. Alas, they’d probably use it for problems (shootings, fires, etc.) rather than celebrating special events such as today’s Pi Day (3.141592 = March 14th, Starting at 1500 hours, lasting 92 minutes)


  • Jayne

    I’d really like Berkeley to have SOME way of releasing photos or details of stolen cars, crimes taking place. I have never even looked at the PD site…I’ll check it out. BUT I do think the city should have a Facebook page, too.
    I don’t do Twitter, but it could get out the news quickly… We recently heard a lot of gunfire nearby – my friend was coming home (up Marin/Hopkins.) I was worried because I had NO idea where it was coming from. They could have put that info up immediately so commuters could avoid it!!

  • Sharkey

    Other than speculation about cost, can anyone list a good reason for the City to NOT to have a Facebook page?

    If it was a basic, non-interactive page that was simply occasionally updated with information about City events, meetings, emergencies, & other information that was cross-posted to Twitter and some kind of blog, what would the harm be?

  • Bruce Love

    To briefly address Bryan’s “Luddite” accusation:

    You might want to look into who first, most often, and most loudly raise the red cards and cry foul against the privacy problems we face from big social networks, Google, and so forth. The bulk of the leaders working against those problems are technologists. They are hardware and software engineers, they are successful technology entrepreneurs and so forth. The people crying foul against the practices emerging from this small number of very large firms are not luddites: they are technology enthusiasts of the highest order. Many of them played critical roles in building the computing high technology you almost certainly use every single day.

    To a large extent, the criticisms reaching the broader public here are an instance of a bunch of very bright engineers looking at what another bunch of very bright engineers are doing and what the businesses built around them are doing — and blowing a whistle. This is a profession attempting to help police itself, not luddites trying to halt technological progress.

    “We” are very, very much in favor of technological progress. We are also very much aware of the importance of socially responsible engineering including not only making sure our bridges don’t fall down, so to speak, but also that the powers our work grants or deprives to various other institutions (such as large corporations and law enforcement) are well considered.

    Liberty, life, and death are literally at stake in these areas for massive numbers of people and for generations to come.

  • Sharkey

    Whew! That sounds an awful lot like wild hyperbole there, Bruce.

    In what specific ways are liberty, life, and death at stake in the issue of the City of Berkeley using Facebook and/or Twitter and blogs to disseminate alerts?

    As long as they are publishing such information in multiple ways so that those who choose to shun Twitter & Facebook are still able to get the same information, what’s the problem?

  • One Thursday, Science Friday sent out a Twitter post “Ambulances and Fire Trucks heading to the Hudson River”

    Definitely not the kind of updates I typically receive.

    I immediately turned on the radio and learned about the plane landing in the Hudson.

    In that “Blink” moment I realized how valuable these “social network” sites could for instantaneous communication of important information. The guy who was arrested in Egypt several years ago sent out a tweet “Arrested” … That, and his ability to send updates, were very important in his being released


    Alas, it’s also used for instantaneous communication of useless information – that’s why I also believe Twitter and Facebook can be (are, actually) BFWOT – Big Fat Wastes Of Time.

    Are they essential? I actually think they both are. Think of them as insurance policies. You don’t need insurance until you have a need for it. If you set up the accounts now, you have them if you need them. I’ve heard of several instances where people who couldn’t reach friends in Japan via phone were able to reach them via facebook.

    If each person is in contact by 100 people, pretty soon those (10^2)^n exponential contacts add up.

  • Joan

    I’ve annotated it with neighborhood info and my North Berkeley Food Tour, but want to get their permission before posting it online.
    IRA SERKES I’d love to know about your North Berkeley Food Tour, and your neighborhood info.

  • Bruce Love

    @Sharkey, re: “In what specific ways are liberty, life, and death at stake in the issue of the City of Berkeley using Facebook and/or Twitter and blogs to disseminate alerts?”

    It is a very long topic but, hey, the Berkeleyside article actually reports one two of the less sinister ways so I will just highlight two points from the article we are discussing. It says:

    “Some of those challenges include making communications open so they comply with public records requirements; making sure that disabled people – including the blind – have equal access to Berkeley’s public pages; and ensuring that the pages are secure and can’t get hacked, [said Mary Kay” Clunies-Ross, the city’s spokeswoman and its point person on social media.”]”. emphasis added

    I should point out in this regard that if many different police departments all sign up to use Facebook, and if a bad actor has motive to disrupt them all at the same time with false or with blocked alerts, having everything centralized on Facebook simplifies their job. It lowers the attackers cost, significantly, thereby making that kind of attack more attractive to bad guys.

    The Berkeleyside article also says, as regards “subscriptions” to things like the “Who are these suspects?” page:

    To ensure privacy, a third-party vendor manages page subscriptions, she said. ”

    Now that is a particularly touchy area because Facebook surveillance cuts both ways. Suppose that a suspect caught via an alert wants to see who might have turned him or her in. Facebook “friend” information is not private or well guarded. It’s widely disseminated. If a bad guy wanted to know who got the alert via Facebook, it would not be that hard to generate a list of suspects. If a bad guy thought that so-and-so might have gotten the alert via Facebook, it is not that hard to find out if the possible snitch gets BPD alerts on Facebook.

    It is prudent of the City to approach social networking policy with caution.

  • JNG

    Why don’t we simply bypass the CITY of Berkeley, put up a page, and let the citizens rule the d*mn thing?

  • James

    Here you go JNG. My new site: http://townpress.org for town forums. Just needs some users.
    I hate to be spammy in the comments (OP please zap if you feel it is too much so) but it seems relevant and hopefully could fill some need for Berkeley folks.

  • Sharkey

    Those seem like some pretty ridiculous scenarios.

    A hacker getting control of the City’s Facebook account and then, what, using it to murder people somehow? Put pictures of wieners on their Facebook pages?
    “Bad guys” trolling Facebook to get lists of everyone who gets the CIty’s updates about upcoming meetings so they can, what, murder them in their sleep? Leave nasty notes on their Facebook page?

    Neither of those scenarios seems particularly realistic, nor are either of them a credible threat to anyone’s “liberty, life, and death” that should prevent the City from using these services.

    Ignoring the criminal photo stuff (which is more the purview of the BPD than the City offices) I still see no way in which anyone’s “liberty, life, and death” is in any danger at all from the City using these services to make brief updates about upcoming City events.

    I’m no fan of Facebook. I think Twitter is terrible. But it seems that those who are against the idea of the City using these services are doing so based on nightmare scenarios and making all of this out to be a hell of a lot more than it needs to be.

    Basic pages.
    Nothing fancy.
    Not interactive.
    Just simple updates about City events.
    The same kind of information that’s on the City website now.

    The City website is atrocious and difficult to navigate. If they just took the information that they publish on the City website now, shortened everything down to 140 characters, and published it via Twitter and Facebook that information would be accessible to thousands of people who would never normally visit the City’s website.

  • Sharkey

    @ James — I suggest posting links to your forum in some other local sites as well. Blogs about Oakland, Berkeley, and the rest of the Bay.

    I think there are a lot of posters from the East Bay over at the BART Rage forums, but those forums have been kind of dead ever since the end of the BART strikes and the mass banning of posters in the wake of the Oscar Grant debacle.

  • Sharkey

    @ James — I was just about to sign up for your site when I decided to read the user agreement:

    “We at this community also reserve the right to reveal your identity (or whatever information we know about you) in the event of a complaint or legal action arising from any message posted by you. We log all internet protocol addresses accessing this web site.”

    So you’d provide a poster’s personal information to anyone who complained about their posting?
    Wow, no thanks.

  • Jesse Townley

    If the information posted is simultaneously posted in ADA-compliant sites, that ought to address the ADA issue. (I don’t know if facebook is accessible- I would be kind of shocked if it weren’t, frankly)

    I think it’s a good idea, but unless it’s used for a focused reason, I can see the city overthinking it. It’s too bad, but a citizen-run fb page is probably more realistic & will be more loose and free-wheeling.

  • James

    @Sharkey thanks for letting me know, I’ve changed it. That was the default TOS the forum software provides and probably intended to scare spammers. I also haven’t implemented the ip logging bit of it to be honest.

    While on this topic though, I do much prefer people just use their real identities or link to an identifying source. I’m not really a fan of anonymous commenting. For a local site I think there is more to be gained than lost by being a real person and not a just mystery avatar and opinion.

  • Lynn Bradley

    Berkeley needs a better way of communicating with her residents. I have inquired about two recent criminal activities in my neighborhood and haven’t received a single response of any kind from the City. Perhaps they don’t want us to know what is going on around us.

  • emraguso

    Nearly three years on, we’ve taken another look at where the city stands on social media. It’s not pretty. http://www.berkeleyside.com/2014/02/19/3-years-on-city-of-berkeley-still-stuck-on-social-media-2/