Doritos bags, droll tweets, bikes as riot shields — the Seattle Police department has unleashed them all to fight crime. Other cities may soon follow suit.
Participants at Seattle's annual Hempfest last month were met with a delightful surprise from the local police: The men in blue gave out bags of Doritos. It turned out it was more than just a publicity stunt. It was part of a community-based policing strategy, more intimate police work, that experts are pushing across the country.
"Our chain of command encourages a culture of innovation," Sgt. Sean Whitcomb of the Seattle Police Department told MSN News. "We look for traditional problems and then for solutions that are non-traditional."
In few places is alternative policing more encouraged than in Seattle, where commanding officers routinely brainstorm and implement methods that are unheard of and even shunned in other parts of the country.
The Seattle police department has adopted a culture of being innovative in a reflection of the culture that surrounds it.
"Seattle is a very tech-savvy, innovative and intellectual city," Whitcomb said. "We want our police department to resemble the community we serve."
As part of "Operation Orange Fingers," officers distributed bags of Doritos to revelers with instructions about existing marijuana laws in Washington and safe practices at HempFest after the state voted last November to legalize possession of the drug under one ounce for those over the age of 21.
"Don't drive while high," the bag read. "Don't give, sell, or shotgun weed to people under 21."
"Do listen to 'Dark Side of the Moon' at a reasonable volume," it wryly added.
Related: Seattle downs police drones
Across the country, unconventional, community-based policing like the tactics employed in Seattle are starting to catch on.
In smaller towns, police have started to pull drivers over for "good driving" and reward the surprised motorists with gift cards. In Saratoga Springs, Utah, two years ago, police pulled over safe drivers and handed them turkeys before Thanksgiving. In Las Vegas last year, officers distributed minor league baseball tickets to motorists who abided by the rules of the road.
On social media, police departments have also heeded the call to action, understanding that applications like Twitter and Facebook can be used for more than just posting bulletins. In New York, Cincinnati and Florida, detectives have scraped public information and photos from Facebook to build cases against gangs, many of which boast openly on the social media about their criminal activities. Police using social media is part of a nation-wide strategy to get cops out of patrol cars and into peoples' lives wherever they gather, whether that's at a city council meeting or online.
"They want to brag,” Greg Antonsen, deputy inspector for the New York Police Department, said at a 2011 conference on law enforcement and the internet. "Never underestimate their desire to show off. It works against them."
On Twitter this week, Billerica, Mass., police shamed a man who boasted on the site about his speedy trip between two towns and compared himself to NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
"Jeff Gordon does his thing on a race track not on public roads," they wrote.
Massachusetts State Police, who were commended for their efforts to efficiently spread information on social media during the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt in April, also scolded the reckless driver.
"Not smart, son," they replied. "You put your life, and those of the motorists around you, in danger."
Related: When criminals tweet, police watch
George L. Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who began researching police departments in the early '70s, recalled a campaign he helped create in Detroit two years ago that sought to mitigate a common problem — home invasions — by implementing an uncommon solution.
Residents in the Grandmont-Roseland district felt disconnected from city law enforcement, Kelling said. Part of the reason their neighborhood was plagued by burglars was because police weren't acting as part of the community.
To bridge the chasm, Kelling advised the Detroit Police Department to have its officers patrol with their windows down, stopping frequently to introduce themselves to residents.
"The basic element of community policing is that officers have to find out what the problems of the citizens are," he said. "If you see a police car, you feel that it's not for you, that it's around for other business."
"Nobody believes that riding around does a hell of a lot. You need to create a felt presence in the community."
By mobilizing officers and putting them in contact with community members in Grandmont-Roseland, Detroit police were able to educate residents about the precursors to a home invasion, like lurkers "casing" a home. In turn, those residents were urged to call police when they spotted potential casers and the dual activism led to a 25 percent reduction in home invasions in the neighborhood from June of 2011 to June of 2012.
"It's a matter of principle that wherever you're developing aggressive police contacts, you better work closely with the community," Kelling said.
Related: Is there now a Facebook for cops?
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