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Police use Twitter to track killer's rampage

Twitter has been used by several organizations over the years, but few have used it more effectively than the Cumbria police, which used the social network to give updates on a shooter who was on the loose.

Cumbria police
Cumbria Police's Twitter feed detailing the shooting spree. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Police in Cumbria in the U.K. have been using Twitter to give updates to citizens on a gunman's shooting spree.

According to the Telegraph, which first reported on the news, Cumbria police tweeted a message at 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday alerting citizens that a gunman was on the loose in the town of Whitehaven. It also included a link to a statement written by law enforcement discussing the issue.

Cumbria police continued to use Twitter to update followers on what was happening. By the time the whole ordeal was over, police announced on their Twitter feed that nine of the people who were killed had been identified and provided a link for folks to find out who the victims were.

The Twitter updates didn't end with police. Concerned residents in the general area of the shootings used two hashtags, #cumbria and #whitehaven, to keep everyone apprised of the events that were unfolding. According to the Telegraph, people also posted messages urging others to be careful around town. Eventually, the alleged gunman killed himself, ending the nightmare for the community.

Although the account of the killing spree was later recounted by news outlets, it was apparently Twitter that most users turned to first. That's certainly nothing new. The social network is increasingly becoming a place where people go to read the news and tell others what's happening in their areas.

But it's worth noting that law enforcement is starting to see its value in communicating with the public. Even my local police force has a Twitter account, which also updates the community on important events around town. It has several hundred followers who get updates on their Twitter feeds long before they hear about the events from the local news.

Once again, Twitter has proved itself to be more than a site where people tell their friends what they had for dinner last night. It's an emergency service. And it's a place where a community of strangers can come together and see what's really happening around their neighborhood. As the incident in the U.K. has shown, that kind of reaction should be celebrated.