Iowa State Police Department uses Twitter like another tool on its belt


Being the community outreach officer for the Iowa State Police Department, Anthony Greiter always has Twitter at the ready. 

“Think twice, tweet once.”

A Post-it note containing only these words collects dust on the desk of Iowa State Police Department’s Anthony Greiter, guiding him as he holds all the power when it comes to the department’s Twitter account.

Since the Iowa State police Twitter’s launch, Greiter has added color and humor to build its following to more than 17,000. Tweets such as turning a foggy day into a vape joke have caught the attention of the Iowa State community as well as people all around the world.

“The vaping tweet reached 1.8 million people across the world,” Greiter said. “We had articles written about us across the world, and that’s a great way to show that law enforcement in the U.S., in this time when there’s a lot of tension between communities and police, can be real people.”

Social media is now another tool on an officer’s tool belt as a way for departments to be part of their communities. The police department in Wyoming, Minnesota, which Greiter often pulls inspiration from, recently surpassed its town’s population in followers.

Greiter has found that this humorous style works with this audience of mostly young college students who tend to “wake up and most know that it’s going to be a good day.”

He joked that he often draws the line and then puts one toe over it because this edgy style is what has kept the department relevant.

“It is a tough balance because we’re working with sensitive information and sensitive topics, but at some point if we don’t lighten up and provide some comic relief, people will stop paying attention,” Greiter said.

Maintaining a Twitter that is light and fun has been a goal of Greiter’s since pitching the Twitter account to the department.

He explained that if people genuinely enjoy the content that they are putting out on a regular basis, their audience will be attentive when there is an actual emergency or at least a possible threat.

He cited what he called “the medieval sock scare.”

A prop, which was simply Styrofoam in a sock, left by members of the Live Action Role Playing Club turned into a bomb scare.

Though the situation turned out to be harmless, the ISU PD reached roughly 100,000 people with its warning within the first 10 minutes that it was sent out. It was one of the first times it used social media for this type of situation.

Social media has its pros compared to ISU Alert, Greiter said. Most people don’t get ISU Alert, limiting the number of people that it reaches.

Though Twitter is the department’s daily contact with the community, Greiter incorporates face-to-face, more personal types of events for the department through his community outreach position.

“We are able to reach a much larger audience with social media, but there’s still something to be said about the personal contact,” Greiter said. “The coffee with a cop, the citizen’s police academy and the opportunity for people to come in and ask us questions and have conversations.”

Today, all police departments in the United States make community policing a priority. Though, Matthew Delisi, professor of sociology and coordinator of the criminal justice department, said that this has not always been the case.

Early on, being connected to the community was uniform for police departments across the country. This all changed once these practices led to corruption.

“Policing used to be very politicized and very closely connected to the communities,” Delisi said. “That was good because there was a lot of strong relationships and a lot of rapport. It was bad in that it engendered corruption.”

The response to the unethical behavior was to completely separate the police and the community. One method that Delisi spoke of was the implementation of cars.

Officers who used to walk around and engage with the community now drove in cars, communicating only with other officers through the radio.

Corruption was then replaced with another issue: estrangement.

“You had the police really only responding to calls for service and then they would react to whatever it was, and there were a lot of angst and problems in the mid- to late 20th century,” Delisi said.

Realizing that the separation of police and community only caused problems, departments began practicing community policing again.

Delisi said that when he talked to police departments seeking to hire students, he found that they are looking for smart people who have people skills.

“That’s what a lot of policing is. It’s relationships, it’s managing very different kinds of people,” Delisi said.

The ISU PD has already seen an improvement on already strong community relations since its Twitter reached popularity.

Greiter said that Iowa State officers have told him that while they were arresting someone, the arrestee said, “Are you the one that runs Twitter? That’s awesome. I love you guys.”

“Let me say this one more time. I arrested this kid and he said, ‘You guys are awesome.’ To me, that’s a win,” Greiter said.

Their Twitter showcases a clear understanding of internet culture, which is the main appeal to most of the younger audience and is something that Greiter did not decipher alone.

Ian Jamieson, a senior in software engineering at Iowa State, works alongside Greiter sometimes, enlightening him on what is trending and what will likely go viral.

When it comes to internet humor, Jamieson said Greiter caught on quickly.

“[Greiter] really enjoyed that humor and the connection he was making with students, which is something that is pretty hard to do as a police department, especially at a university police department,” Jamieson said.

After meeting Greiter while working at the orientation fair, Jamieson jokingly said that the department should hire him, to which Greiter replied, “OK.” What were already positive feelings toward police turned into even more respect during the months that he has worked at the department.

Jamieson enjoys the anonymity that comes with this job, as most people don’t know of his role in it. When people find out that he is behind many of these ISU PD tweets that go viral, they are often surprised.

“It’s always kind of exciting to see something you write be so popular,” Jamieson said. “I think that’s kind of rare and it’s special to me because I know that it’s making a difference, maybe not in some drastic way, but I know that it’s helping build that community.”

Though he receives help from Jamieson, Greiter still has full control over the account, and he is grateful that the department has given him such free rein.

“I couldn’t do any of this if I were representing a department that’s full of terrible officers, and I’m not. I’m representing a department that’s full of officers that are very similar to me,” Greiter said. “While we’re here to enforce the law, we can do it with a smile. We can do it in a friendly manner.”