THE BLOG
06/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

In Toronto, Social Web Ensures Traffic Moves Along Safely For Law Enforcement

Sergeant Tim Burrows doesn't just think of the old police adage, "To Serve And Protect," as lip service. It's the inspiration for his use of social media in community outreach and fuels the passion to always be a better cop. He also thinks that using his resources to be a more efficient traffic cop can add to the betterment of society as a whole.

"Just think, if the approximately $2 Billion that gets funneled to cover the societal costs of traffic collisions could be redirected to benefit hungry children, abused women, senior care and cancer research," said Sergeant Burrows.

If you don't buy into that logic then buy into this: The messages Sergeant Burrows sends out on social media do not just affect Toronto drivers, they apply to everyone around the world.

"Don't drink and drive, slow down to see more, wear your seat belt, be a cooperative driver, watch for pedestrians and cyclists, obey the rules of the road, etc.," he said. "You get it."

@TrafficServices: "Did you know? Amber lights actually mean stop! Unless its unsafe to do so, you are required by law to stop!"

And Sergeant Burrows also likes to point out that everyone is a part of the traffic flow whether you're on the road or not.

"We're all traffic," he said. "No matter what you think, you're part of traffic; the movement of people and goods. Pedestrian. Cyclist. Transit user. Driver. Mobility challenged. Everyone."

So whether you drive, walk, skateboard or wheelchair it around town or you buy, sell or use anything that is shipped to your village you are a part of the flow of traffic not just around the neighborhood but around the globe. The bottom line message is that this affects you so pay attention.

@TrafficServices: "Does anyone know what ICE stands for and why it is important to have?"

Sergeant Tim Burrows joined the Toronto Police Service in 1990. He was assigned to the traffic division right out of police college and spent eight years in almost every area in the division, including collision investigation, criminal investigative, motor unit and enforcement. Eventually he took over the Communications/Media Relations Office for all matters relating to traffic and transit for the city of Toronto.

While he enjoys a good working relationship with the media, he became frustrated with how the news reporting outlets edited out some of the key points in his messages, leaving only the juicy bits.

"The traffic safety message I was trying to convey to the public only received mainstream media attention when there was a fatal collision," said Burrows. "The coverage that was given was often edited to the point that the intent of the safety messaging was lost."

He looked for a better way to connect to the public with as much reach as possible. Social media seemed to meet his needs in law enforcement.

@TrafficServices: "TSV investigating multi vehcile collision Bathurst/York Downs. PC Smith handling media and infomation. TTC Shelter struck, not occupied"

"The public was already there," he said. "The mediums for communication had been established there and I could use it for both proactive and reactive messaging, reminders and tips without needing to do a press release or interviews.

Burrows said that innovation and continuous learning have always been a part of a commitment on the part of the Toronto Police Service to being a leader in law enforcement, so getting the buy-in from department heads wasn't all that difficult.

Well aware of the responsibility he took on by engaging the public in such an open medium and the associated risks that came along with it, Burrows had to produce reports measuring responses from the public on each initiative.

@TrafficServices: "Closure still between Dundas/Gould as well. Risk from falling debris. Please avoid area to allow emergency personnel free access."

"I had to demonstrate that everything I wanted to try was going to benefit the needs of the service and the public we serve," he said. "I'd keep my supervisors, our public information directors and senior officers advised of what I wanted to try, the results of our efforts and the engagement that we were creating with the public."

The Toronto Traffic Services division has a mandate to ensure the orderly movement of traffic in Toronto and to reduce accidents, injuries and deaths. For his part Sergeant Burows communicates to the public important information and that information makes people safer.

"I might never be in the position of saving a drowning baby at the bottom of a pool," he said. "But I can save lives by raising the awareness of the public and influencing behavioral changes to make our roads safer."

This is Part 1 of a two-part post on Toronto Traffic Control Officer, Sergeant Tim Burrows who has used social media to help his department distribute information relating to traffic control and safety in and around the city.