Retired Upper Darby Police Capt. David Madonna has become more than a sworn officer of the law — he’s a social media icon in Delco.
Madonna, 53, is a 24-year veteran of the Upper Darby Police Department and has made a name for himself far beyond the Upper Darby community as social media coordinator for the county’s largest police department. His tweets and Facebook posts from the department's official accounts have catapulted the department into a more accessible public safety entity, balancing comedic observations about Delco behavior and pop culture with genuine public service announcements and public calls for assistance.
Madonna’s posts have expanded the department’s social media footprint to over 16,000 followers on Twitter, and even thousands more on Facebook. And these numbers are for a “smaller” police department of approximately 130 officers. (Neighboring Philadelphia Police Department has 195,000 followers on Twitter for a department of 6,500.)
“If you would have told me as a young police officer I would be engaging the public in this matter I would have thought you were crazy,” said Madonna. “But to say some of the things I’ve said and not even thinking it’s going to have an impact, I’m amazed.
But the authenticity and humor that the department's (via Madonna) social media is known for will be ending.
Although he has been cryptic on UDPD’s Twitter page about where he is going (his new handle @3P_Chief is a good clue), followers were quick to send their best wishes.
“Might as well delete Twitter at this point then…” wrote @SmoothAsUtter.
“We love your tweets & good luck wherever you’re going,” read a tweet from the Wildwood, N.J., eatery Toll Man Joe’s. “We’ll miss you."
A number of other police departments and municipalities also sent their best wishes to Madonna.
He is well aware about how much of an impact he has had on the public.
“It was completely humbling,” said Madonna. “I was very proud of the work we did. A lot of times I tweet things and I don’t expect them to get the reactions they get. ‘My God, 100 retweets on that? I thought that was silly.’ I’m very thankful to the following we had. They’ve been great to me.”
As Madonna implied, he is not stepping away from the keyboard: He’s bringing his social media presence elsewhere.
Next week he will be sworn in as Prospect Park police chief.
“I’m going to be in a different role, but I plan on bringing that same type of humor and insight into law enforcement I brought to the people of Upper Darby and beyond,” he said.
A week before he begins as the borough’s top cop, he already started his own social media presence, amassing 1,100 Twitter followers in almost two weeks. His profile has grown faster than when the department’s account officially launched in July 2011. It took it over two years to get to 2,000.
Madonna had just been promoted to captain when he presented Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood with the idea of expanding the department’s reach to the popular online platforms.
“This is the future, we need to get into it,” Madonna recalled the conversation with Chitwood. “After a couple of months I was so excited that we hit 100 followers, it was such a big deal. Little did I know how it was going to blow up.”
Some of Madonna’s biggest hits on Twitter include a tweet from 2017 telling the public to stop contacting the department to free rapper Meek Mill from prison because “it wasn’t us” who put him there, a picture of two officers with a keg of beer that prevented an underage drinking party in the woods from taking place and a drunk man standing outside of a fast food restaurant with his penis hanging out.
At first, Madonna didn’t receive the greatest feedback from colleagues about what he was posting.
“We’re going to look silly if you keep doing this,” was one comment Madonna remembered. “A police officer from a major department said to me, ‘We could never do what we do because our council would get too mad.’ The next thing I know they’re doing what we’re doing.
"Now that it’s mainstream I think cops have accepted that this is useful. Not only is it useful for the public to gain trust and to get them on our side with some issues, it’s also helpful with me getting my caseload solved.”
Before the internet’s prevalence, people would have to wait to see the evening news or the newspaper to see about crimes that were committed. Now, the police can post surveillance photos/video to social media directly and start getting the public to help immediately.
With the anonymity social media can provide, direct messaging to police provides another tip line that people can use to help potentially solve crimes.
“I really wish I kept track of the crimes we solved thanks to the public through social media,” said Madonna. “We solve a lot of crime through social media. The public should be acknowledged for that information. They should be made aware of exactly what they have done, not only to help our presence on social media, but to help us actually solve crime.”
Chitwood said that is exactly what is occurring in Upper Darby.
“The social media that he put together and ran solved numerous crimes and was able to take into custody people wanted for crimes,” said Chitwood. A recent case involved a man wanted for stealing merchandise from the Home Depot on Baltimore Pike in late May. His photo was posted to the department's social media.
“Within 24 hours he was in custody,” he said. “Everybody does social media and he (Madonna) did it in a great way.”
Like the most influential social media personalities in the world, Madonna didn’t resort to any special training or courses to broaden his appeal. A defining identity/perspective and engaged audience is all that is needed.
“Everything came natural,” said Madonna, but he admitted that the wit doesn’t “flow as easily as people thing.”
“A lot of times I’m jotting down ideas about certain tweets until I come up with something that I think a) it’s appropriate, b) it’s useful and c) people are going to like it,” he said.
Madonna said tweets that look at the aberrant behavior of people, which may include funny happenings of his colleagues, too, is not to shame anyone, but it allows “more people to see exactly what police departments go through on a daily basis.” Police officers are people, too, he reminded, and engagement with the public allows each to share experiences with the other.
“Humor to raise awareness and calls to action,” is how Madonna claims to have broken down the department’s social media use. The humor draws in people and keeps them around to help the police when a call to action is needed.
Chitwood said showing the humor of police officers has been “absolutely outstanding.”
“Everything he (Madonna) did made me a firm believer of the importance of social media and of policing in America today,” said Chitwood.
As Prospect Park’s top cop Madonna will be taking on a department that is smaller than the investigations division he led at Upper Darby. Also, the borough is about one-eighth the size of Upper Darby and has about 75,000 fewer residents. For him, the job of keeping accessibility and engagement of the community with the police department will still be a priority.
“I am going to bring that same approach to Prospect,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about something, right? People have concerns about their safety, about the town they live in, and the safety of their children at the schools. You need to listen to the people because they’re going to have something to give you that you have not thought of that may be helpful in a law enforcement environment.”
But is Prospect Park ready for Madonna and his Twitter handle @3P_Chief?
“We’re going to find out,” said Madonna with a laugh.
Upper Darby Detective Christopher Karr Jr. will be taking the social media reins from Madonna. When reached for comment via text on Monday, asking if he was ready to continue Madonna's legacy, he simply replied, "Of course!"