The digitally-savvy law enforcement branch of the government of Maharashtra also joined Twitter a little over three years ago and has since been using pop culture and millennial slang to speak to the people of Mumbai.
By Venkata Susmita Biswas
From bland civic advisories like ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ to memes on Bollywood films, like ‘Mar Jayega Tu’, drawing from a popular line in the movie Gully Boy, the Mumbai Police department has come a long way when it comes to public awareness campaigns.
The Mumbai Traffic Police has been especially active in its mass communication initiatives, using outdoor hoardings with the help of ad agency FCB Ulka — which takes on this work pro bono — for the past 25 years. The traffic police department uses strategically placed hoardings, especially the one at Babulnath Temple near Girgaon Chowpatty in Mumbai to inform people about traffic safety. “The Babulnath hoarding is noticed by the who’s who of the city and has a tremendous impact on people at large. It is talked about and certainly enhances the caring image of the Mumbai Police,” says Dhruv Jha of FCB Ulka.
The hoardings of the traffic police are replicated across Mumbai on over 100 electronic boards. The digitally-savvy law enforcement branch of the government of Maharashtra also joined Twitter a little over three years ago and has since been using pop culture and millennial slang to speak to the people of Mumbai. This is in addition to the outdoor hoardings at popular spots that wittily encourage people to follow traffic rules, like to avoid being behind the wheel when drunk, etc.
The department’s Twitter handle responds swiftly to viral and trending topics, slipping in a word of caution and advice at every opportunity.
On this handle, a Game of Thrones meme turns into a message against the use of drugs, and TV character Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory becomes the voice of reason against those who spread fake news.
The department’s social media handle was set up by Sunchika Pandey, consultant, content and creative, Mumbai Police. Recounting the initial days of setting up the handle, Pandey, a former crime reporter, says the vision was to help the people of Mumbai by connecting them to the police department. “The focus was on getting people to engage with us and change the perception of the policeman from one that scares people to one that makes them smile.”
The goal was to make the department relatable to the public. This is why the first ever tweet from the police department was: ‘Why should the police station be the only place where we meet? Let’s meet here every day’. As of June 2019, the Mumbai Police Twitter handle has 4.7 million followers and as per social media analytics site Social Blade, the handle has an average retweet count of 102.
The Twitter handle does a good job at “humanising the police force which people tend to fear”, according to Subhash Kamath, CEO and managing partner, BBH, a creative advertising agency. But that alone is not enough to change behaviour and reduce incidents, he feels. Recalling the award-winning and hard-hitting 1989 Transport Accident Commission Australia advertisement about drunken driving, Kamath says, “It will take more than just a few funny memes for drunken driving or drug abuse to reduce.”
Even though Facebook is the most popular social media platform in India (with 260 million active users), the police department chose to use Twitter (34 million active users) because of the platform’s real time and immensely interactive nature. Social media in general has become a critical part of law enforcement for the police across the globe. The New York City Police Department’s official twitter handle (created in 2008) sends out alerts about suspects on the run, robbers, arrests made by the police and posts press conferences by the department online.
Aside from capitalising on every latest meme, the Mumbai Police department uses it social presence to inform, update, and accept complaints from citizens. Often users tweet to the police department to draw its attention to traffic and parking related violations, seeking help to find missing persons, report thefts, and often, just share appreciation for the work done by the department.
According to Pandey, “A team of 10 policemen, including constables and two senior officers, monitor the Twitter handle all day until 3-4 am.” The police handle keeps its DMs (direct messaging) open and has a clear mandate to respond to every tweet and message it receives.
Most recently, chief electoral officer Ashwani Kumar attributed Mumbai’s high voter turnout during the Lok Sabha polls to the awareness campaign run by the Mumbai Police’s Twitter handle.
Both the Mumbai Police and Traffic Police departments seem to have ‘inspired’ police departments across the country. From Kerala to Assam, police departments have adopted a social media-savvy approach layered with witticism to engage with citizens. “In fact, the reputation of UP police has improved after it joined Twitter,” Pandey observes.