MODESTO -- Modesto police Lt. Rick Armendariz said he's seen how Twitter and other social networking sites can help officers make arrests.
A year ago, officers at an armed robbery at the Farmers & Merchants Bank in Modesto's McHenry Village e-mailed Armendariz photos of the robber taken from security cameras.
Armendariz posted the photos on his department's Twitter feed and Facebook page with a phone number for people to call if they recognized the robber.
"Within a half hour, we had a name of the possible suspect," Armendariz said. "It would've taken a lot longer without Twitter and Facebook."
Officers arrested the suspect at his Ceres home that day.
It's that kind of immediate interaction with the public that has police agencies pushing officers onto Twitter, which provides an Internet format better suited for breaking news than Facebook.
Police in California are taking the lead in the Twitter movement. Nine police agencies in the state were among the top ranked, based on their number of Twitter followers. The Modesto Police Department was ranked second in the nation for police agencies its size.
"That says a lot about our community; that they want to know what's going on in their neighborhood," said Armendariz, a Modesto police spokesman. "They're being our extra eyes and ears."
He said the department believes residents who are well-informed about crime happening around them are less likely to become victims.
The survey was conducted by the Center for Social Media of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The center was designed in October 2010 to help police agencies improve their social media skills to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen community relations and enhance services.
The survey grouped police agencies into categories based on the number of sworn officers they have. The other California police departments that ranked high in the Twitter survey were Sacramento, Oakland, Mountain View, Greenfield, Sausalito, Arcadia, San Rafael and Newport Beach.
The survey found Modesto police had 5,453 Twitter followers, but the department had 5,550 followers as of Saturday.
Modesto police send tweets about school lockdowns, major crashes, bank robberies, shootings and other major incidents. But the department also tweets about other events.
Recently, Modesto police tweeted photos from the unveiling of the department's officers memorial and the police canine competition.
Modesto police conducted a virtual ride-along in October, offering Twitter followers and Facebook friends photos and details of incidents during a 12-hour shift. Armendariz said the department plans on doing it again this summer, following one of the department's specialized units, such as the gang enforcement team or crime reduction team.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department plans on doing its own virtual ride-along via Twitter this summer as it prepares to increase its social media presence. Sheriff's news releases are posted on Facebook and Twitter, but officials want to put more effort into Twitter.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Anthony Bejaran said his department wants to connect with a younger generation.
"They text; they don't call. They tweet; they don't e-mail," Bejaran said. "Those are the type of people we need to reach."
Sheriff's officials have realized their next tipster might be someone who doesn't grab a newspaper or watch TV to get the news. The department had 2,413 Twitter followers as of Saturday.
It's not just police agencies who are using Twitter.
The Modesto Regional Fire Authority has a Twitter feed and so does Battalion Chief Hugo Patino, who also works as the department's spokesman.
Like his counterparts at the police and sheriff's departments, Patino uses Twitter to monitor news organizations. He also uses it to provide information to news reporters in a timely manner.
Patino was at the scene in April when authorities surrounded a north Modesto home occupied by a man suspected of shooting to death a sheriff's deputy and a locksmith. After a daylong standoff, the home became engulfed in flames.
Patino relayed information about the fire via Twitter to news reporters who were held back a few blocks from the burning home.
"I was the fire operations chief at the Chrysler (Drive) incident," Patino said about the standoff. "I really wasn't in the position to take calls."
The battalion chief said Twitter is in its infancy and public safety agencies are trying to figure out how best to use it. His department is trying to develop a policy on how to use Twitter. The department had 94 Twitter followers as of Saturday, while Patino had 170.
One of the attractive features of Twitter, Patino said, is that it's easy to start.
"Everybody can jump in," Patino said. "You can stick your toe in the water or you can jump in with both feet."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.