Lieutenant Zach Perron is the lead Public Information Officer for the Palo Alto (CA) Police Department, an agency of 85 sworn officers serving a community of about 65,000 residents. The computer was invented in a garage three blocks from his office window, making Palo Alto the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” Lieutenant Perron has worked with the command staffs of a number of local agencies to help their departments launch their social media outreach efforts. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Dionne Waugh pointed out last month in her blog post “Riding Along Via Twitter
,” agencies all across the country are doing virtual ride-alongs. We would like to share a unique spin we put on the idea recently.
We launched our Twitter
accounts in March 2012 and have enjoyed remarkable success with them. We’ve had two primary goals with the three Twitter virtual ride-alongs we’ve done: to increase transparency by giving our community some insight into the day-to-day reality of law enforcement in Palo Alto and to grow our follower base as much as possible so that we can maximize our reach for emergency communications during a critical public safety incident.
Our unique spin on the virtual ride-along came in February 2013, when I approached Chief Dennis Burns and asked if he would be willing to don his uniform, ditch his desk, and hit the beat himself for a few hours while I tweeted what he did. Not surprisingly, he jumped at the chance. Chief Burns has been incredibly supportive of our fledgling social media efforts, and he is also a “cop’s cop,” a chief executive who has retained his street instincts and who remains truly at home behind the wheel of a patrol car. It was a natural fit. But to my surprise, he volunteered to do a full 11-hour patrol shift on a Friday night!
Chief Burns handled calls for service, did patrol checks of problem areas, made enforcement stops, and visited a child’s lemonade stand. He drove while I rode in the front seat, live-tweeting via Tweetdeck on a laptop. While it wasn’t the busiest shift, he stayed active throughout the night and even opted to hold over until 0400 hours to help midnight shift put our bars to bed.
Having the chief on patrol attracted a ton of positive media attention. The event received great news coverage from virtually every major network television station and print publication, and we gained a few hundred new followers in the week surrounding the chief’s shift. It was a resounding success. In fact, Chief Burns volunteered to do it all over again in March for the popular “Global Police Tweet-a-Thon.”
The sky’s the limit with Twitter virtual ride-alongs. Whether it’s a regular patrol officer, the Chief on the beat, or some other unique twist you dream up, you can’t go wrong. They’re cheap, they’re easy, and they’re fun, but most importantly, your community will love them.
If you’d like to read our tweets from the chief’s first virtual shift, you can see them all at http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_22604505/palo-alto-police-chief-gives-virtual-ride-along