Note: I’ve been writing a lot about the Toronto Police Service lately and thought I should diversify a bit. But, I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and write more about TPS for several reasons: 1) TPS has many great success stories about their use of social media 2) they don’t seem to mind telling me about them, and 3) because THIS story absolutely astounds me…

The gay community in Toronto is significant, so much so that the Gay Pride Parade is said to be the largest Gay Pride Parade in the world. Unfortunately, leading up to this year’s parade in June, Toronto Police didn’t have a great reputation within the gay community. This year they turned that around with two tools not often used to fight crime: condoms and Twitter.

condomsWith the parade coming up, the Crimestoppers Unit did something kinda crazy. In an effort to encourage people to tip police to homophobic crimes, it bought a bunch of condoms and had printed on the packaging, “Your Tip is Safe With Us”; simultaneously referring to the Crimestoppers’ mantra that you can anonymously and safely send them tips about crimes and, well, something else.

Their goal was to promote the idea among the gay community to “report homophobic violence, period” (RHVP). Step number two, and this is where social media comes in, was that many of the police officers themselves, the large majority of them heterosexual, then marched in the parade and tweeted along the way. Constable Scott Mills (@1800222tips) describes it this way, “We celebrated the pride parade and tweeted as we went. Mayor Miller (@mayormiller) would be tweeting all along the parade, we tweeted video of the chief supporting the gay community.” The officers tweeted messages about the RHVP campaign, the progress of the parade and many videos. This was the second year TPS has done the condom campaign, but the first that it tweeted the Pride Parade along with it.

Tips of crimes including homophobic violence to the Crimestoppers tipline have increased, and the department has made great strides in turning around its relationship with the gay community overall. According to Mills, “it is definitely on the mend”. Additionally, the RHVP program was honored with an Ontario Police Services Board Award this year.

The Chief in Toronto is William Blair. He is also President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Chief Blair’s department is among the most open-minded and courageous of those I follow in the social media realm. Courageous because they take risks, and in this case they combined many risks and topped it all off with an incredible display of a sense of humor to boot.

There are several more videos covering this year’s Gay Pride Parade in Toronto. Find them by using the terms “Toronto Crime Stoppers police pride parade” in YouTube. On Twitter, the #hashtag is #prideTO