The ride-along is an old-fashioned police department tradition that lets civilians tag along with officers for a shift to learn what the job is really like. The Toledo Police Department recently took residents along on a 21st-century virtual version, thanks to social media.
Toledo police invited the public — much more of the public than can fit in the back of a cruiser — to join officers for a virtual ride-along. Police posted real-time online updates from patrol units to give the community a glimpse of what they do all day.
On face value, the virtual ride-along might seem like an entertaining little stunt. Along with posting about assisting at the scene of a traffic crash and from a foot chase, officers had fun with it.
They posted photos of themselves playfully interacting with citizens and taking a break for doughnuts. Who doesn’t love a good cop-doughnut joke, right?
But beyond the fun, the virtual ride-along was another smart initiative in a string of smart initiatives from Toledo police meant to build relationships and trust with the community.
Residents who know the officers patrolling their streets — the officers who will show up at their door if they need help — are more likely to trust those officers.
Trust between police and the citizens they protect is invaluable. It is another line of defense in vulnerable neighborhoods.
Chief George Kral’s department has made the investment of time and energy to build those relationships with events like Coffee with Cops and panel discussions with law enforcement and community activists discussing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Department officials say they hope the attention garnered by the virtual ride-along might inspire possible new recruits for TPD, which is also smart.
The department is facing a serious manpower crunch as 150 members of the 600-person force are eligible to retire this year. TPD needs to fill police academy classes with the best, brightest, and most diverse class of new officers possible.
Simple community-engagement projects like this may seem like small gestures, even like public relations. They are much more than that. This effort, and others like it, could pay off with a real connection between police officers and the people they serve in Toledo.
We, as a community, need the TPD — for safety and for protection. They have our backs; we need to have theirs.
We also need to find ways to build and rebuild community. The ties that bind us are their own kind of protection.