Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns will don his police uniform, get behind the wheel of a patrol car and bring the community with him on a "virtual ride-along" this Friday as part of his department's recent effort to expand its social-media presence.
The ride-along, which will begin at 2 p.m. Friday and stretch until 2 a.m., will allow residents to follow Burns and a public-information officer as they handle calls, patrol the streets and investigate crimes and accidents. The officer riding with Burns will be live-tweeting throughout the 12-hour event.
For Burns, the first-of-its kind event will also be a ride down memory lane. He joined the department 30 years ago and held just about every position and rank before being named interim chief in 2008 and permanent chief in 2009. Burns had also served as Fire Chief between July 2010 and December 2012. In a statement, Burns said he looks forward to hitting the beat again and to educating the community about how the department operates.
"I'm looking forward to spending the night with my officers and with all of our Twitter followers across Palo Alto and beyond," Chief Burns said. "My goal is to give everyone insight into the realities of policing in Palo Alto and also to bring attention to our social media channels. In the event of a disaster or widespread critical incident, we want people to turn to our social media outlets for emergency information."
The Friday event will be the second Twitter ride-along for the department. The inaugural event took place Nov. 9 and was praised by the department as a great success, with "hundreds of new followers joining us, Twitter users submitting questions throughout the night, and people following the event from across the country," police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said in a statement. He noted that the event is being featured in an upcoming issue of POLICE Magazine, a leading law-enforcement trade publication.
Anyone interested in riding along can follow the tweets on the department's Twitter account, @PaloAltoPolice. All tweets from the event will include the hashtag "PAPDvra" (an abbreviation for "Palo Alto Police Department virtual ride-along). People will have a chance to ask officers questions throughout the event by adding "#PAPDvra" to their tweets. The department expects to make between 100 and 250 tweets throughout the event, depending on the volume of calls and the level of public engagement.
The event is part of the department's broader effort to increase its virtual presence, an effort that took off in March 2012 with the launching of profiles on various social-media platforms. Links to the department's social-media accounts can be found at www.cityofpaloalto.org/PAPDconnect.