BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL – On Saturday evening, Bountiful Police Officer John Joubert patrolled an area where residents had requested extra patrols, handled several traffic violations, a traffic accident and returned some lost property to its owner.
On the way to investigate the accident, he almost hit a deer.
As he went about his patrol, he had a number of Bountiful residents riding along with him, in a sense.
The event was the second virtual ride-along Bountiful police have conducted as a way to bolster communication with the public. The hope is that when police need to get information out on something happening, there is a ready audience on Twitter and Facebook.
More virtual ride-alongs will be scheduled in the future.
Between 5-11 p.m. on Saturday, Joubert tweeted his calls with the help of dispatcher Jeremy Banks. The particular details of calls, such as the names and addresses of those involved were not revealed, but those “riding along,” nevertheless got something of a feel for the type of calls patrol officers handle.
Saturday night was relatively quiet. However, on the first virtual ride-along the department offered, it was another story.
“It was very busy. The first call the officer got was a report of lewdness in a church parking lot,” said Bountiful Assistant Chief Ed Biehler. The rest of the shift was equally busy. Biehler said when they schedule a virtual ride-along they never know what the shift may bring.
There may be a night when one call may take the bulk of the officer’s shift.
On quiet shifts such as Saturday’s, the officer may offer safety tips and answer questions.
Such was the case Saturday when Joubert answered questions like one from one of the participants asking what the most common call they get is. Joubert responded that calls on suspicious activity seems to be the most common.
Biehler said he believes Bountiful is the first department in the state to incorporate a virtual ride-along, although the idea didn’t originate with the department
Joubert and Banks are the department’s personnel who deal with social media sites. They pitched the idea of the virtual ride-alongs to department administrators. But even before that Biehler said he was aware of the idea, having read a couple of articles about a police agency in California that was doing it.
Social media has become increasingly more popular as a means for police and fire departments nationwide to get information out.
“After the windstorm in 2011, we realized we needed a better way to communicate with our citizens,” Biehler said.
After that Joubert and Banks were put in charge of social media. Among their duties was coming up with ideas to enhance the department’s use of social media.
The virtual ride-alongs offers the public a chance to listen to dispatchers and to ask questions, Biehler said. The department has received positive feedback from its use so far.
With a strong social media following, police will be better able to disseminate information in cases of emergency like the 2011 windstorm, an earthquake or other disasters.
The department hasn’t scheduled the next virtual ride-along yet, but Biehler said they may shoot to schedule one quarterly.