12/29/2013 @ 4:39AM

First U.S. Police Department To Launch Weibo Account Will Urge Local Businesses To Create Their Own

A police department has started using Weibo for community outreach in the U.S. (Photo by bfishadow)

A police department in southern California has started using Sina Corp.’s Weibo to get in touch with the growing number of its Chinese immigrants, and will approach local businesses to create their own accounts in the coming year, according to Alhambra Police Chief Mark Yokoyama.

The Alhambra Police Department is the first law enforcement agency in the nation to launch a Weibo account. Within three weeks, it has garnered over 5,800 followers on the Chinese microblogging system similar to Twitter without any marketing. Yokoyama has already been hit with questions by San Francisco, Seattle, San Leandro, San Jose and Monterey Park police departments on how to set up a Weibo account of their own and translation strategies. During the first quarter of 2014, the police department plans to ramp up media advertising and approach local Chinese businesses about signing up for Weibo.

“What businesses crave is public safety. I think that’s one of the things that businesses want and need,” Yokoyama said in a phone interview. “If they know the types of crimes that are going on around their area, they’re more likely to be aware and take measures to prevent themselves from becoming victims.”

The police department’s Weibo account would have been beneficial in warning victims and workers during a series of robberies that occurred during the summer on the Valley Boulevard Corridor, which is a hub for many Asian-owned bank headquarters and businesses, according to Yokoyama.

“A robbery in Alhambra might not rise to the level of information that the LA Times or channel 7 news would report,” he said. “But it’s big enough for us. And we can control that message by putting it on Facebook and Weibo.”

Yokoyama initially contacted writer Walter Yu about the idea of city officials using Weibo as a form of outreach with immigrants after reading hiscolumn for the Alhambra Source, a hyperlocal online news site. Yu goes by his pen name Walter Ma on the site. He was not immediately available for comment.

More than half of the police department’s followers on the microblogging site are from China, which it credits to the influx of international travelers and visitors who might want to stay connected to the area where their families live.

In 2012, an estimated 677,000 Chinese tourists spent nearly $2 billion in California, up 31% from 2011.
According to the latest statistics by the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, nearly 1 in 3 Chinese travelers to the U.S. make a stop in the Los Angeles area.

In Alhambra, Asians make up 52.9% of the population and nearly three quarters of them are Chinese,
according to recent census data. Other cities following Alhambra’s example could have national implications for Weibo’s presence.

“The Asian population is going to continue to grow in the United States, and the Chinese population is going to be the largest segment of that growth,” Yokoyama said. “I think Weibo is going to be a natural way to communicate.”

The police department’s Weibo conversation can be followed using the hashtag #WenMeiGuoJingCha (#AskAmericanPolice).