ST ANTHONY, Minn. — Police departments took people on a new kind of ride-along Saturday, using technology as an all access pass into policing.
"I think this just breaks down those barriers to just say hey, we're just regular people," St. Anthony Police officer Kiel Rushton says.
Going behind the scenes with police isn't a new idea, and ride-alongs have been going on for decades, but not like this.
"They’re what we call tweets from the streets," Rushton says.
A statewide virtual ride-along if you will, with about a dozen police departments across the state tweeting every call they respond to, showing the good, the bad, and the funny side of being a cop.
"Most of us are dads. The jokes are pretty bad around here," Rushton laughs.
Oh yes, there are plenty of bad dad jokes, like the stereotypical donut joke Rushton tweeted Saturday morning, but all joking aside, he says these virtual ride-along days are about creating more transparency and trust.
“On the one side, it gives people who aren’t happy with the police an outlet for that energy that needs to be spent,” Rushton says.
“Rather than taking out physical violence on a police officer they can rant about it on Twitter. On the other hand, you’re giving that silent majority who doesn’t necessarily get a voice the ability to grab onto something and say look, these are my cops.”
Individual cops and departments have been tweeting for years, but the idea to come together as one, using a common hashtag #MNcopsVRA, came from Duluth K-9 Officer Rob Hurst.
"I just kind of had the idea of like hey, it would be cool if we somewhat coordinated and tried to do it all on the same day,” Hurst says.
“It's just a different way, a more modern way of us connecting with the community. I think people kind of see it and are like this is the real world, this is the actual stuff police are doing day in day out."
They hold these virtual ride-along days about once a month.
It's grown from a few tweets here and there to hundreds every time they do it.
"We’re thinking outside of the box, being appealing and accessible to that broader audience."
Once this virtual ride-along day is over they'll start planning the next one
Each time they’re working to get more departments on board so they can build more trust in the communities they serve.
"We're starting to come together and I think social media has really been helping to bridge those gaps," Rushton says.
A few of the local police departments that participated in the most recent virtual ride-along day, include Eagan, Mounds View, Shakopee, Chisago County, West St. Paul Police, Osseo, Plymouth and St. Anthony.