If the NYPD's community affairs wizards expected a trickle of warm and fuzzy photos on their Twitter feed this week when they invited New Yorkers to tweet out their favorite cop pics -- they guessed wrong.
Within two hours, the department had received more than 2,000 responses. By the end of the day on Tuesday, the NYPD had accumulated up to 70,000 tweets from around the world -- and the sentiments weren't universally kind.
One picture showed cops with an 84-year-old man whose head officers had allegedly bloodied. Another photo depicted a cop shooting a dog. The department had wanted to solicit pictures like the one that went viral last week of a cop leading a blind woman to a bus stop.
Now as the brouhaha winds down, the NYPD is not only defending the way it uses Twitter but -- admirably -- is sticking with its embrace of social media.
Twitter is a great way for the police to communicate with the public, says NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.
New Yorkers can pose questions, alert the authorities to problems in their neighborhoods and -- yes -- vent.
The police in return can communicate with citizens in better circumstances than usual -- while they're not under pressure from moment-to-moment demands of their jobs.
And Tuesday's #MyNYPD viral explosion?
Whatever the department's original purpose, the brass are now calling the public flame fest healthy.
"The reality of policing is, oftentimes, our activities are lawful -- but they look awful," Bratton said Wednesday. "And that's the reality. As I looked at a lot of those photos, those officers engaged lawfully in their activities."
So maybe the NYPD and the New Yorkers they police have unearthed -- yet again -- an important civic truth: A vigorous tradition of honest back-and-forth is a vital public asset -- while a smoldering and taciturn distrust only helps to breed trouble and disorder.
Sometimes the best discoveries come by accident.