The Toledo Police Department took Twitter and Instagram users on a virtual ride-along with its gang task force recently, posting pictures and videos of officers responding to a variety of calls under the hashtag #ridealong419.
Law enforcement agencies across the country should be similarly active on social media. A playful presence on these sites could do a lot to rehabilitate the public image of police officers, which social media damaged to begin with.
Sgt. Kevan Toney, left, Tweets after a foot pursuit on Boydson near Monroe Street with Officers Ei McCord, middle, and Jeron Ellis, all of the Toledo Police Department.
A 2015 Gallup poll showed public confidence in police to be at its lowest point in 22 years. The last time the confidence level sank so low was in 1993, when crime in the nation overall, and especially in major cities like New York, was far worse than it is today.
This time the drop can, in part, be attributed to the growing prevalence of social media in American life. Paired with hood and body cams, the technology has given millions of Americans an intimate look at the worst instances of police criminality.
But like anti-venom, social media could be the antidote to law enforcement’s poisoned PR. Videos of police heroism and kindness have also gone viral. Virtual rides-along could be the next evolution of the trend, humanizing police officers as the Internet gets a live glimpse into their day-to-day duties.
Better cop-civilian relations are an unqualified good for the nation. To the extent that Americans of one political stripe or another think the police are a cause of injustice in society, they should distinguish between the human beings enforcing the law — the great majority of whom are decent — and bad policing policy. Social media, having pushed things in the opposite direction for so long, can also be a force for greater unity and understanding between police and the people they serve.
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