Thanks to Twitter and a tweeting cop, anyone who follows Boynton Beach police can now ride along on the midnight shift.
Starting Tuesday, Boynton Beach police officer Ron Ryan will live tweet whatever he encounters on his nightly shift. It could be a gun crime, a robbery or a domestic dispute — if Ryan is there, you can be there, too.
Well, virtually there, anyway.
The unusual move of using a working officer to send short messages to those how follow him on the internet is part of Boynton's push to use social media to better connect with residents. Ryan will tweet under the @BBPD username with the department's hashtag #ridewithBBPD.
"[Before] community policing was riding around with your windows down, making sure you get out the car and talking with the community," Ryan said.
Today, community policing means Twitter. And the trend is growing, although experts say Boynton Beach is among the first to have an on-duty officer tweeting as he works.
"Some departments tweet for a number of hours or during tweet-a-thons, but to have an officer on shift tweet is unusual," said Lauri Stevens, a social media strategist based in Massachusetts.
"It's a relationship," she said. "It builds trust and connections within the community, its old-fashioned community policing with a new-age twist."
According to a 2012 study of conducted by Raymond Foster, a law enforcement consultant and retired Los Angeles police lieutenant, of the 923 police department's surveyed 31 percent used Facebook and 8 percent used Twitter.
Foster said that police interest in social media is just a sign of the times.
"People are sitting right next to each other and texting," he said. "There is a whole generation that wants to see things come up on their screen."
That's why Boynton Beach police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater has put effort into building one of the largest police social media presences in the area.
Another thing that sets Boynton Beach police apart from other departments is the way the department uses social media. The department, which has been using social media since 2007, regularly tweets under its own hashtag #ridewithBBPD, Ustream's public meetings and press conferences and warns residents of speed traps and criminal trends through Twitter.
Although officer Ryan is the first Boynton Beach officer to share his shift with residents, he won't be the last, Slater said. She hopes to have an officer live tweeting every day on every shift.
"While I can talk a lot about what the police do, it's a different perspective when an officer is tweeting and responding to a call," Slater said.
Slater said it humanizes the officers and engages the community, which she hopes will contribute to community policing and crime prevention.
But some experts are skeptical.
"If the tweets are about crimes or alerts, well, you might end up increasing the fear of crime," said Tim Goddard, assistant professor of criminal justice at Florida International University. "Then again, if the live tweets are about crimes in progress, departments might find success in apprehending suspects by having more eyes and ears out on the streets."
But unlike the wanted posters of yesteryear, a live tweet can bring legal issues to the police department if the officers aren't properly trained.