A bit later this morning, forecasters are predicting another slick, snowy commute in the Denver area, just like the one on Tuesday, January 22, when the Denver Police Department's social-media team tracked auto accidents in real time on Twitter before offering this exclamation: "C'mon, friends — you're better than this!"
The tweet added, "We believe in you, #Denver...and you too, transplants!," with the last part followed by a winking emoji.
DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson stresses that the mention of transplants "wasn't really targeting anyone." But he acknowledges that "our community has grown over the past few years, and we want to talk to everybody about staying safe."
The first traffic-safety tweet in what would become a series went out at 6:55 a.m. on the 22nd. It read: "Chances are pretty good that the roads may be a bit slick this AM and we’ve already responded to 13 traffic crashes so far.... Take your time, #Denver — wherever you’re going will still be there when you get there. Safety first. #Snowgoing #Cotraf."
The department offered a demolition-derby update at 8:20 a.m.: "The traffic crash count is now up to 37. Take it slow, #Denver — you’ll be glad you did. #SnowGoing #cotraf."
Exactly an hour later, the DPD unleashed the exhortation and transplant reference at the top of this post, as well as a new mayhem tally and some pointed advice: "Our traffic crash count is now at 62. Slow it down, give yourself some extra stopping distance and get from A to B safely."
While the department hasn't previously used its Twitter feed to track accidents in real time, Jackson doesn't see the approach as particularly new. "We talk about weather, because we know people watch the news for weather," he maintains. "And we recognize that we have an opportunity to keep people safe through social media."
The idea is "to have more of a conversation with people," he goes on. "We're saying, 'Hey, everybody. You're new here. You're not new here. But we can all do our part to be safe.'"
Such concerns are heightened when the roadways are icy or snow-packed. Accident totals vary widely from day to day in Denver, Jackson concedes. But during a day last week when the pavement was dry, the DPD responded to fifty accidents. On the 22nd, there were 87 — an increase of more than 42 percent.
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Among the main messages the department wants to send is "to plan ahead," Jackson says. "You know it's going to take more time to get where you're going. Leave early, so you don't have to rush. It's more important to get there alive than to get there first — to get where you're going safely, so you don't do harm to yourself or anyone else."
He also emphasizes the risk of thefts on snowy mornings when drivers don't stay in their vehicles while warming them up. In his words, "You think you can leave it running for thirty seconds to grab something inside, and then you come back and your car is gone."
Expect more tweets on topics like these as the winter in Denver rolls on. "When you're on Twitter and you see the number of crashes and how we're giving real-time analysis about being careful, we hope it makes you realize: 'That could happen to me.'"
Whether you've lived in Denver for a few months or a few decades.