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Originally published December 1, 2010 at 7:56 PM | Page modified December 2, 2010 at 6:44 PM

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Corrected version

Your stolen vehicle may be just a tweet away

Seattle police are now using Twitter to alert followers to stolen vehicles.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dude, where's my car?

To receive tweets on stolen vehicles from Seattle police, go to twitter.com/getyourcarback and follow the instructions.

Seattle police tweet general updates at twitter.com/seattlepd

At 2:28 p.m. Wednesday, Seattle police 911 dispatch supervisor Gary Raymond sent the department's first stolen-vehicle tweet:

A brown, 1984 four-door Toyota Camry with Washington license-plate number 455 XGP had been reported stolen from the Ballard area around 8 a.m.

"We have 36 [Twitter] followers already. How about that?" Raymond said from his desk in the Seattle Police Department's 911 communications center.

Seattle police have 7,000 Twitter followers for its regular department account — twitter.com/seattlepd — but on Wednesday, the department launched a new account specifically to tweet information on stolen cars: twitter.com/getyourcarback.

When a car is reported stolen, an officer will confirm the report and get the owner's signature on a form, Lt. Mike Edwards of the department's investigations procedures unit said. Once that form is signed, the officer will call into the dispatch center and the information — a vehicle's color, year, make, model, body type and license-plate number — will be tweeted to Twitter followers.

"It's a force multiplier," with citizens helping police see stolen vehicles and, hopefully, get them back to their owners more quickly, Edwards said.

Criminals are already using social networking, even posting on Twitter and Facebook about the houses they've broken into or the items they've stolen, Edwards said.

"It's just one more thing they're using, so we want to use it, too," he said during a news briefing to announce the launch of the campaign.

Police in Albuquerque, N.M. have been issuing Twitter alerts about stolen cars and have seen some marked success, Edwards said.

Seattle has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of stolen cars in recent years. But some 3,000 vehicles are still stolen every year; police recover about 80 percent of them, he said.

It's Edwards' hope that people who see the Twitter alerts will call 911 when they see a stolen vehicle. The aim is to further reduce car thefts in the city between 10 and 20 percent.

Police will not send tweets to followers when stolen cars have been recovered, he said, but car owners will be notified.

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When Edwards began his career as a Seattle officer 30 years ago, radios had to be logged out and plugged into the console of a patrol car. "There were lots of places in the city you couldn't use them," he recalled.

But technology has become an important crime-fighting tool, and police routinely use tools like Google Earth and live-streaming video, Edwards said.

Officers assigned to the department's media office began using Twitter in May 2009 to alert the media and citizen followers of major police incidents. A department Facebook page was set up in April.

Twitter "is more than a craze. It's been around long enough that almost any citizen of any age is aware of it," Edwards said.

Depending on how well the program works, police could use Twitter to alert people about traffic collisions and road closures, or to quickly publicize descriptions of crime suspects, Edwards said.

Moments after sending his first stolen-car tweet, Raymond plugged in information about another vehicle: a 1993, silver four-door Honda Accord with Washington license-plate number 608 YTL.

"It was taken from the South Seattle area sometime since midnight," Raymond said, reading from a paper copy of a police report.

"We'll get used to it, like anything else," Raymond said of the new Twitter account.

"We get new technology all the time and eventually we adapt. We're very adaptable."

Example of a @getyourcarback tweet:

COLOR:brn YR:1984 MAKE:toyota MODEL:camry BODY:4dr LIC:455xgp ST:wa ***DO NOT MAKE CONTACT CALL 911***less than a minute ago via web

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published Dec. 1, 2010, was corrected Dec. 2, 2010. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the San Jose Police Department tweets about stolen cars.

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