Po­lice of­fer Twit­ter ver­sion of ride-alongs

Cu­ri­ous ci­ti­zens just need on­line ac­cess to fol­low daily rou­tines.

Austin American-Statesman - - NEWS - By Kristi Ea­ton

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 twee­t­a­longs, cu­ri­ous ci­ti­zens just need a com­puter or smart­phone for a glimpse into law en­force­ment of­fi­cers’ daily 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 they see and do 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 de­part­ments say vir­tual ride-alongs reach more peo­ple at once and add trans­parency to the job.

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

On the day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Tarah He­u­pel, the Rapid City Po­lice De­part­ment’s pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, rode along­side of­fi­cer Ron Terviel.

He­u­pel posted reg­u­lar up­dates ev­ery few min­utes about what Terviel was do­ing, in­clud­ing the of­fi­cer 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 34year-old univer­sity ca­reer spe­cial­ist in Ar­ling­ton, Texas, has done sev­eral ride-alongs with po­lice and reg­u­larly fol­lows mul­ti­ple de­part­ments that con­duct tweet-alongs.

“I think the only way to ef­fec­tively com­bat crime is to have a com­mu­nity that is en­gaged and un­der­stands what’s go­ing on,” he said.

Ride-alongs where “you’re out in the el­e­ments” are very dif­fer­ent than sit­ting be­hind a com­puter dur­ing a twee­t­a­long and the level of dan­ger is “dra­mat­i­cally de­creased,” he said.

But in both in­stances, the pas­sen­ger gains new in­for­ma­tion about the call, what laws may or may not have been bro­ken and what tran­spires, he added.

For po­lice de­part­ments, tweet-alongs are just one more way to con­nect di­rectly with a com­mu­nity through so­cial me­dia.

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. And Nancy Kolb, se­nior pro­gram man­ager for IACP, called tweet-alongs a “grow­ing trend” among de­part­ments of all sizes.

There is no set pro­to­col and de­part­ments are free to con­duct the twee­t­a­long how they see fit, she said.

With tweet-alongs, many calls also mean many tweets. Kolb said de­part­ments are cog­nizant of clut­ter­ing peo­ples’ Twit­ter feeds.

That’s why the Rapid City Po­lice De­part­ment de­cided to cre­ate a sep­a­rate ac­count for the tweet-along, Al­len­der said.

Kolb also said of­fi­cers are care­ful not to tweet per­sonal or sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion. Of­fi­cers typ­i­cally do not tweet child abuse or domestic abuse cases, and they usu­ally only tweet about a call af­ter they leave the scene to pro­tect of­fi­cers and call­ers.

But Al­len­der, the chief of po­lice in Rapid City, said tweet-alongs also show some of the more out­ra­geous calls po­lice deal with on a reg­u­lar ba­sis — like the kid who breaks out the win­dow of a po­lice car while the of­fi­cer is stand­ing on the side­walk.

“Real life is fun­nier than any com­edy show out there and not to make fun of peo­ple, em­bar­rass them or hu­mil­i­ate them, but peo­ple do funny things,” Al­len­der said.

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