Police offer virtual ride-along via Twitter

Sioux Falls, S.D. — Riding side by side as a police officer answers a call for help or investigates a brutal crime during a ride-along gives citizens an up close look at the gritty and sometimes dangerous situations officers can experience on the job.

But a new social media approach to informing the public about what officers do is taking hold at police departments across the United States and Canada — one that is far less dangerous for citizens but, police say, just as informative.

With virtual ride-alongs on Twitter, or tweet-alongs, citizens just need a computer or smartphone for a glimpse into law enforcement officers' routines.

Tweet-alongs typically are scheduled for a set number of hours, with an officer — or a designated tweeter like the department's public information officer — posting regular updates to Twitter about what he or she sees and does while on duty. The tweets, which also include photos and links to videos of the officers, can encompass an array of activities — everything from an officer responding to a homicide to a noise complaint.

Police officials say virtual ride-alongs reach more people at once and add transparency to the job.

"People spend hard-earned money on taxes to allow the government to provide services. That's police, fire, water, streets, the whole works, and there should be a way for those government agencies to let the public know what they're getting for their money," said Chief Steve Allender of the Rapid City Police Department in South Dakota.

It started offering tweet-alongs several months ago — https://twitter.com/rcpdtweetalong — after watching departments in Seattle, Las Vegas and Kansas City, Mo., do so.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Tarah Heupel, the Rapid City Police Department's public information officer, rode alongside Street Crimes Officer Ron Terviel. Heupel posted updates every few minutes about what Terviel was doing, including citing a woman for public intoxication, responding to a call of three teenagers attempting to steal cough syrup and body spray from a store and locating a man who ran from the scene of an accident.

Photos were included in some of the tweets.

Michael Taddesse, a 34-year-old university career specialist in Arlington, Texas, has done several ride-alongs with police and regularly follows multiple departments that conduct tweet-alongs.

Ride-alongs on which "you're out in the elements" are very different than sitting behind a computer during a tweet-along, and the level of danger is "dramatically decreased," he said. But in both instances, the passenger gains insight about the call, what laws may or may not have been broken and what transpires, he said.

More than 92 percent of police departments use social media, according to a survey of 600 agencies in 48 states conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Center for Social Media. Nancy Kolb, senior program manager for IACP, called tweet-alongs a growing trend among departments.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20121228/NATION/212280354#ixzz2Gle1QefI


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