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Police offer 'virtual ride-alongs' via Twitter

By KRISTI EATON Published: December 28, 2012

For police departments, tweetalongs 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 tweetalongs 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.

In Ontario, Canada, the Niagara Regional Police Service conducted their first virtual ride-along in August over a busy eight-hour Friday night shift. The police department's followers were able to see a tweet whenever the police unit was dispatched to one of the more than 140,000 calls received that night.

Richard Gadreau, the social media officer for the police department, said officers routinely take people out on real ride-alongs, but there is a waiting list and preference is given to people interested in becoming an officer.

With tweetalongs, 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 tweetalong, 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 tweetalongs 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. “… I mean, that guy deserves a little bit of ridicule, and everyone who would be watching would agree. That's just good clean fun to me.”

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