(Photo by Juliana Reyes)
Joe Murray’s phone was blowing up.
It was 4 p.m. on a Thursday and the detective, who watches over West Philly and is known for his accessibility (and jokes) on Twitter, was about to head to a meeting at police HQ with Commissioner Charles Ramsey.
Ramsey, Murray was told, wanted to talk about how Murray used social media.
But an hour before the meeting, the calls started rolling in. His captain, his friends on the force. They all kept asking him, Where are you? You gotta be here right now. Murray was baffled. He told them to relax, he was on his way. Then, they dropped it: The Mayor is on the line. He’s waiting for you.
Apparently, the meeting had been moved up.
Murray told his cabbie to step on it. He jumped out at 7th and Arch and ran the rest of the way. When he got to the Roundhouse, someone was waiting for him and promptly escorted him to the conference room. Ramsey was there, and so were all the department heads.
Murray, breathless, spoke into the speakerphone and heard Mayor Nutter’s unmistakeable voice.
“Was traffic bad?” Nutter asked. Then: “Do you follow me on Twitter?”
Murray relaxed. He did follow the mayor on Twitter. Sometimes we get the same hate tweets, he told the mayor. “I hope you ignore them,” Murray offered.
Finally, after a few more minutes of inexplicable small talk, Nutter couldn’t keep it up any longer. The real reason for the big meeting? Murray was the first winner of the city’s new “Innovation in Government” award.
The award “honors a city employee who successfully initiated and implemented an innovative idea that brought about dramatic results.” The city put out a call for nominations last September.
Murray, 35, is a natural choice. He’s been tweeting since 2009, using the platform to send out crime alerts, field complaints from Philadelphians citywide and just help people see the Philadelphia Police Department in a different, more human light. When the Police Department took him off Twitter temporarily a few years ago, more than 200 people signed a petition to get him back. He now has more than 5,000 followers.
Murray said he feels a little strange getting an award for doing his job. Still, this one feels different. More meaningful.
“This award means more than any other award,” he said, “because I was nominated by the people.”
Even though more and more Philly cops are on Twitter, Murray said a lot of the force still just doesn’t get it.
“People are afraid to put themselves out there,” he said.
Cops have to realize that they need to do everything to build trust, to solve cases, to change the perception of the department, he said. Even if that means witnessing a Twitter spat between a civilian and a cop. If he sees that, he’ll reach out to the civilian to try to smooth things over.
“I just try to squash all beefs,” he said.
And when he’s not squashing all beefs?
Murray, who lives in Rittenhouse Square, is working on a novel at new Center City coworking space Pipeline, where he has a membership. He just finished his first one — 82,000 words about a heist on Jeweler’s Row. It’s not ready to publish, yet, but when it is, you know he’ll tweet about it.