ALHAMBRA (CBSLA.com) — A Southland police department has begun using text messaging to improve relations with its Chinese residents.

The Alhambra Police Department announced Tuesday it will become the first police department in the U.S. to use WeChat, a mobile text and voice messaging app developed in China, according to Alhambra Police Sgt. Jerry Johnson.

Police will use the Chinese mobile app to communicate with Chinese speaking immigrants in Alhambra – where up to 70 percent of the city’s population of 85,000 are ethnically Chinese – and other parts of the San Gabriel Valley, Johnson said.

Because WeChat is not restricted to Southern California and can be directly accessed from anywhere in the world, many recent immigrants to the region from mainland China remain connected through online news and social media outlets such as WeChat and Weibo while living in the U.S., said Johnson.

Starting in Dec. 2013, the Alhambra PD began using Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, to provide residents with information relating to police services and law enforcement activities occurring in or near their neighborhoods, according to Johnson.

Today, Alhambra PD has more than 40,000 followers on Weibo, eclipsing its combined followers on Twitter and “likes” on Facebook.

“The launch of WeChat will enable the Alhambra Police Department to reach a younger and growing population that relies heavily on smart phone and mobile apps for a source of information,” Johnson said, pointing to a Weibo survey that he said “significantly improved” ties with Alhambra residents.

Residents can follow the Alhambra Police Department under the WeChat account handle 阿市警察局 (“A municipal police”).

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