Civic News
Crime / Media

“We have the best website platform of any police department in the country,” says Det. Justin Frank

Philadelphia Police have launched a suite of web tools to engage with residents.

By nature, cops don’t seem to boast much.

Yet a year after the Philadelphia Police Department launched its new website, with a growing, information-focused social media campaign and a growing internal climate to leverage communications technology for the best, there is innovation to be proud of down at the Roundhouse.

“When a detective is investigating a crime… you can only knock on so many doors,” says Lieutenant Raymond Evers, the commanding officer of police media relations with 18 years in the force. “Instead, now we push out the video of someone we’re looking for and we start getting tips right away…We are using tools now we never thought possible.”

Utilizing the immediacy of communications technology, the police sought an extensive and committed sourcing of citizen tips to seek out suspects for the Kensington Strangler serial killer. In a far less criticized movement, it’s already become common place, leads coming from social media and an increasingly better trafficked website.

This new era kicked off Dec. 31, 2009, with the new website launch, built with open source CMS SilverStripe on a Google site. Using the internet was an initiative from Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who brought in June 2008 his Communications Director Karima Zedan, who was previously with University of Pennsylvania public safety, to lead that initiative among others.
“It was a long journey and intense discussion,” says Zedan, 34, with a smile, having launched the project before the on-going city’s Division of Technology consolidation. “But now our technology enables us to do what we do better.”
There are three broad ways the police communications staff has begun utilizing the web for external communication in new ways:

  1. A more flexible, better navigable website — After first launched a year ago, the website is continuing to develop into a more streamlined, updated web presence with information of value. “Before, our site was a flat Dreamweaver design that needed an IT lead to update anything,” says Det. Justin Frank, who works under Zedan. “Now it’s open source and the entire communications staff updates it… It’s helped work flow, our productivity and the way we can share information.”
  2. Tips-gathering focus in social media — In addition rising follower counters on Twitter and an information-driven Facebook page, the police department has taken to using Google calendars to share its community meetings and Google Groups to grow conversation with residents. “We used to make 40 copies of DVDs of surveillance footage and give to media,” says Frank, who handles much of the police’s social media and has been on the force since April 2002. “Now, 6ABC just can screen capture from the police website or use our Youtube.”
  3. Crime data sharing — This website features a crime map, though searches are limited to 30-day periods and the raw data is somewhat cumbersome to collect. Zedan hinted at more to come,  but, under Ramsey, the police department has already returned to a 1990s tradition of being relatively forthcoming with crime data online.

Those are tepid steps to be sure, but, nonetheless, by most accounts, the police department remains one of the city’s more forward-acting agencies in regard to IT, if only because the commissioner’s blog now gets the occasional update (which it hadn’t as of July).


It also helps that the competition isn’t necessary stacked across the country.

Frank, 37, a self-described geek who went from “playing Dungeons and Dragons to carrying a 40 caliber, boasts: “We have the best website platform of any police department in the country.”

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Philadelphia Police Department

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