Police officers are no strangers to the occasional ride-along while patrolling. However, Dennis Burns, the Palo Alto Police Chief, didn’t just take one lucky guest in his passenger seat. Instead, Burns took 2,673 for a ride-along. In what must be a record, Burns live-tweeted his 13 hour shift with the help of a public information officer on the Palo Alto’s Police Department Twitter account, giving followers updates on his whereabouts and experiences. Providing the opportunity to virtually hop in the passenger’s seat, his 192 Tweets represented something likely not listed on the job description.

Government transparency through Twitter

So, why did Burns decide to live-tweet his Friday-night beat?  Aligning with the city’s broader aspirations towards government transparency and citizen engagement, Burns ultimately decided to host the virtual ride-along “to give you some insight into the realities of law enforcement in Palo Alto.”

And, these insights highlighted the mundane, the serious, and the sometimes comic experiences that a Palo Alto Police Chief encounters on his Friday night patrol. Many of the tweets detailed stopping cars who they suspected of driving under the influence, which could be (unfortunately) expected on Friday nights.

The ride-along was not devoid of some heart-pounding action too. Responding to a 911 call about a prowler outside of a residence, Burns arrived and searched the property with K-9 dogs to ensure that the area was safe.

But, the highlight of the evening occurred at 2:05 AM. Burns pulled over a car that was toting a mattress on its roof, secured only by the hands of the driver and the passenger. Tweeting a picture for proof, Burns later joked “You didn’t believe us, did you? Admit it.”

The global reach of Government 2.0

This ride-along eventually reached followers in California, Virginia, and even across the Atlantic in Germany. And, the level of interaction was equally as impressive. @PaloAltoPolice even summed up its experience by thanking the followers and noting that they were “amazed at the level of engagement tonight!” Demonstrating a novel approach to community-building, Burns’ Twitter ride-along appears to have easily met its goal to provide insights into law enforcement in Palo Alto. In fact, this event was so successful that the Palo Alto Fire Department will be hosting its own virtual ride along on Tuesday, February 19th.