Virtual Ride-Alongs Help Va. Beach Police Inform Public

The ride-alongs follow patrol officers through text and photos posted in real time on the Police Department's Twitter account, @VBPD.

by Margaret Matray, McClatchy News Service / September 10, 2014

Police Officer Dan Kneaskern checked the equipment in his car and was soon off to patrol 55 square miles of the city.

Within a few hours that night in early August, he assisted on a possible shoplifting case at Red Mill Commons, responded to a reported "suspicious person" and made several traffic stops. He filed paperwork, checked on the welfare of a resident and gave a ride to a man who had lost his footing in the dark.

Most days, the public doesn't get to see what Kneaskern and other patrol officers do during a typical shift. But last month, people got to follow him on a virtual ride-along, through text and photos posted in real time on the Police Department's Twitter account, @VBPD.

The department will host its next virtual ride-along - this time with its Marine Patrol - from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. It is the second in a series of "Tweet from the Beat" ride-alongs designed to give residents a glimpse into what it's like to be a police officer.

The department has offered traditional ride-alongs to the public for years, and virtual ones allow police to reach a wider audience, said Officer Tonya Borman, the department's public information officer.

She said a lot of the public's perception of police work is based on television and movies, not reality.

"The whole goal is to allow the public to see a better view into what we do, how we do it and why we do it," Borman said.

Virginia Beach joins a growing number of police departments hosting virtual ride-alongs. Locally, the Suffolk Police Department hosted several in 2012, and Hampton police held one last month.

The Center for Social Media at the International Association of Chiefs of Police has noticed a steady increase in such offerings over the past year and a half, with more departments using them as a way to engage with their communities, said Nancy Kolb, senior program manager for the association.

A survey conducted by the police chiefs' association last year showed more than 95 percent of law enforcement agencies use social media in some capacity. Of those, more than 73 percent said social media had helped improve relationships between police and their community, according to survey results.

Kolb said law enforcement agencies have used different platforms to host the events: Twitter, Facebook, blogs and their own websites. In some jurisdictions, officers have live-tweeted their own shifts, and in others, dispatchers have posted the information, she said.

In Virginia Beach, Borman rode with Kneaskern on the first virtual ride-along and tweeted about what he was doing. She posted photos and responded to tweets from followers.

Borman said she hopes to host the event once a month and will follow a different unit each time. After the Marine Patrol, she plans to follow a police recruit for a day and also live-tweet a Traffic Safety Unit shift.

"We just want the community to see what we do," she said.

Viewers can participate by following @VBPD and using the hashtag #ridewithVBPD.

©2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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