The coffee machine is broken at the Södermalm police station in southern Stockholm when The Local arrives.
“Riots have broken out over less in Sweden,” says Viktor Adolphson, commanding officer with the Södermalm police, with a chuckle.
Humour is something of a signature for the veteran cop, the self-confessed “funny one” of the two officers who were the first active-duty police officers in Sweden to take social media on the beat. His partner against crime, Johan Säfström, is the brains behind the account, fact boffin, and expert on the finer points of Swedish law.
Together, they are @YB_Sodermalm
, tweeters with almost 20,000 followers, and a healthy Instagram and Facebook following to boot.
But why is a typical pair of Stockholm cops so popular when their jurisdiction of Södermalm only has 100,000 residents?
Because their tweets make headlines. And often. Sometimes, it's thanks to a touch of humour:
“Loud screams from an apartment worried neighbours who rang the police. It turned out to be a young couple in a toothpaste war. Not a crime.” (And let's not forget the noisy make-up sex
, or the knife-wielding synth hunter
“Oh, the Roma tweet. It raised hell, but we learned from it. For us, it's most important to catch the suspect, but that's not always the most important thing for Twitter,” Adolphson laments.
But it's not all fun and games and foot-in-mouth fails. The police use the account to control crowds, communicate with the community, and even save the odd life.
“It's a two-way thing, it's essential,” Säfström says. “We need communication. It's not just funny stuff, it's also vital information, about concerts, demonstrations, even when they close the road off for zombies
The officers also stopped a potential suicide when some quick tweeting brought them to a woman who was about to jump from a hotel window on the eighth floor.
But most importantly for the poetic police, the account serves to show another side of the often elusive life of a Swedish police officer.
“Swedish police aren't used to being public, so this account is really liberating,” 46-year-old Säfström explains at police headquarters over a glass of water (no one could fix the coffee machine).
“I've been a police officer for 22 years and this is all new to me. It's not my generation at all. It was scary at first when we started it – we got one thousand followers in a couple of hours when we took over, so we realized pretty quickly that people wanted to hear, they wanted to know. And Swedish police have been quite secretive in the past. There are a lot of myths – that we are just a uniform, like robots. But now it's a lot more personal.”
“We can tell our story, our truth,” 38-year-old Adolphson adds.
And even though critics suggest the officers' time could be better spent fighting crime than acceding to character limits, the fast-fingered force think Sweden would actually benefit if more officers logged in.
“Followers often ask why other cops don't tweet, and we think they should,” Adolphson says. “There are a few here and there, but no official accounts in Malmö, or Gothenburg for example. A lot is happening in Malmö especially, and the chance to answer questions would be good for officers there. People just read the papers, they hear what the chief of police says, and the reporters take what they think is interesting.”
But actions speak louder than tweets, and when the officers invite The Local to jump on board for a spin around Södermalm, it's an offer too good to refuse.
Out on the beat with the cops who tweet
“For a Twitter cop to go out without a battery charger is like for a normal cop to hit the streets without a gun. You can quote me on that,” Adolphson says as he jumps into his police van, clutching his charger.
Cruising around downtown Söder, Adolphson shares stories about a parrot reunion, pickpockets, and patrol tips from followers. He even notes that some people turn to Twitter to report crimes, an action he advises strongly against.
“Let me make that clear, if you have to report an ongoing crime, call 112, don't use Twitter. We don't have the resources to watch Twitter all the time.”
In just one hour, there was a trespassing call-out, a drunken fight, a traffic infringement, and one arrested man who was locked up for the night. It's hard to believe the officers find time to tweet. In fact, perusing their timeline from the hour we shared on the beat reveals almost nothing.
When confronted on the matter afterwards, Adolphson admits that around 80 percent of his social media work is carried out in his own time, unpaid.
The truth is, the officers enjoy it, and if the residents of Södermalm benefit then everyone wins.
So when will the road end for the social media Stockholmers, and what will they do next?
“If the high and mighty come down and tell us we have to stop tweeting, I don't know what I'd do,” confesses Säfström.
“Or we could always go unofficial,” adds Adolphson in a heartbeat.
“Then the truth would really come out.”