Palo Alto Police Chief Gains Following on Twitter Virtual Ride-along

Tweet: Chief Burns is stopping a car driving with a mattress on its roof, with the 2 occupants holding it down by hand. Really.


Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns led a virtual ride-along on Twitter Friday night, with a Public Information Officer (PIO) sending tweets that informed, engaged and entertained followers over the course of a scheduled 12 hour shift that ran into overtime.

The ride-along tweet-a-thon resulted in 192 tweets and 144 new followers for @PaloAltoPolice. If you think that no one beyond Palo Alto would care about the ride along, take a look at this tweet, “Greetings from London, England, Dennis! Good luck tonight!” There were also tweets in German and French.

Why a virtual ride-along? This tweet answers, “The goal of tonight’s ride-along is to give you some insight into the realities of law enforcement in Palo Alto.”

The realities included routine policing, as evidence by these tweets, “Chief Burns is responding with other officers to a traffic collision with possible injuries… Chief Burns just finished a foot patrol of one of our downtown parking garages. We've had a lot of car break-ins recently…Chief Burns is enroute to the Stanford Shopping Center to help with a shoplifting case where security arrested the suspect.”

Does this sound as interesting as watching paint dry? The PIO kept things going by sprinkling in factoids, retweets and interactions of the chief with members of the public.  He stopped at a little girl's lemonade stand to buy lemonade and a cupcake, and ended up being the hit of neighborhood kids, “Chief Burns is now giving a tour of his police car to about 10 kids who have gathered around.”

And this, “Chief Burns is out on foot on University Avenue right now, chatting up the public.”

Also, “We’re at Starbucks, 2000 El Camino Real, to get some coffee. Come on by. We'll be here for the next 15 or 20 minutes.”

However, the true comic relief of the night came when Chief Burns made a traffic stop, shared in a series of tweets by the PIO, “Chief Burns is stopping a car driving with a mattress on its roof, with the 2 occupants holding it down by hand. Really….What's your sleep number? (photo shared)…You didn't believe us, did you? Admit it…Chief Burns is following the mattress-holders to their home two blocks away to make sure they get there safely…The mattress holders are home safe & sound. First time the Chief has seen that in 31 years.”

How was the virtual ride-along received?  Here is a sampling of tweets—

@shtick: Thanx for your live Tweeting & social media savvy, making PA a better place & setting an example for other cities.

@TheRealJesus__: y'all are awesome for doing this! #RT keep it up.

@citymama The #paloalto police virtual ride along tonight w/ Chief Burns is GENIUS. Gr8 way to build community. So interesting!

@citymama The #paloalto police ride-along has me up an hr past my bedtime. When is the next one?

The Palo Alto Police Department launched all of its social media platforms in March 2012. It has gained a serious following on both Twitter and Facebook. This is the department's second virtual ride-along, and possibly the first every led by a Police Chief.


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