Boynton Beach, Fla., police officer Ron Ryan may not have known how to take a selfie, but he did know how to gain 389 followers, 189 mentions and hundreds of re-tweets.
While other police agencies in Palm Beach County have Twitter accounts, it was the first time a county law enforcement officer tweeted throughout a patrol shift.
“It went really well,” Ryan told The Post on Wednesday. “A lot of people were engaged in the conversation and a lot of the stuff that was going on in the shift.”
Virtual ride-alongs have been a recent trend, experts say, and police agencies all over the country are engaged in social media, whether it be Twitter or Facebook. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Delray Beach, Jupiter and Boca Raton Police are all active tweeters in Palm Beach County. For Boynton Beach, the goal is to have three more social media-trained officers tweet during their shift once a month from the department’s Twitter handle @BBPD.
Among the many messages Ryan tweeted Tuesday night was a picture of Boynton’s officers of the month, about an officer who saved a man’s life by giving him CPR at Bonefish Grill and posted a picture of the department’s dispatchers.
Here are a few more:
Enroute to a bar fight at Bar Louie #ridewithbbpd— Boynton Beach Police (@BBPD) February 19, 2014
Situation resolved at Bar Louie. All is good in the world again. #ridewithbbpd— Boynton Beach Police (@BBPD) February 19, 2014
Chief Jeffrey Katz said tweeting was a way for the public to know what the officers do during their shift, as well as get a look inside the department.
“There were several things that occurred last night that the public wouldn’t ordinarily know about,” Katz said. “We’ve been working very hard to re-brand our agency. Too many people have seen our agency in the past and tied problems to it. My goal is to shed light on the overwhelming good that they’re doing every day.”
Ryan, who has been with the department from 1992 to 2002 and then came back in 2010, started tweeting at the beginning of his shift at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and ended around 5 a.m. Wednesday. He sent a total of 37 tweets from his laptop or phone during that time, not including whatever messages he replied to or re-tweeted.
“It was so popular,” police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater said. “It was hugely successful.”
One follower tweeted to Ryan: “You are cracking me up. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing your night with us.”
Another follower tweeted, “If you’re interested @bbpd has an officer live tweeting his shift…be some good reads for late-night twitter.”
While some who heard about the tweeting are questioning when there is time to send the 140-character messages while responding to calls, Ryan and Katz both said the tweeting was done in safe places at safe times.
“Officer safety and citizens’ safety comes first and in this job you can’t get distracted, and I want to go home at the end of the shift,” Ryan said. “You can’t get distracted.”
Ryan said he’d pull over to the side of the road or in a parking lot, and took a few seconds to send a message. After the call, he’d send a quick message about what happened.
“Responding to a 911 hangup. Going to do a welfare check. #ridewithbbpd,” Ryan tweeted Tuesday night. “The 911 hangup was an elderly lady who had an accidental misdial. She was happy we checked up on her though. Nice lady, #ridewithbbpd.”
Boynton Beach Police has more than 7,000 followers and has done virtual ride-alongs before, but not with the officer actually tweeting. In terms of number of followers, the department ranks seventh out of 10 police departments with 100 to 249 officers across the country, according to a study done by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Boca Raton Police came in first with more than 11,000 followers.
Police agencies across the country have been doing these these virtual ride-alongs for the past 18 months, said Nancy Kolb, the association’s senior program manager.
The sheriff’s office has done a virtual ride-along but the actual deputy was not tweeting. They’ve also done a question-and-answer session where the office’s social media expert fields questions and writes what spokesman Deputy Eric Davis says. If they did another virtual ride-along, it’d be with a deputy and the social media expert together.
Boca Raton Police is looking into virtual ride-alongs as well.
“We don’t have plans to specifically have officers use social media from the beat,” spokesman Mark Economou said. “We are exploring ways to get officers more involved, and that may include them sending us stuff and us putting it out toward social media.”
©2014 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)