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Oxford Police hosts #RideWithOPD event for third year

It’s no secret that Oxford Police Department has a widespread presence on Twitter, and on Friday night, the department used it to their advantage.

For the third year in a row, OPD launched their annual #RideWithOPD event, a virtual ride-along that’s gathered somewhat of a cult following. Capt. Hildon Sessums, the man behind the keyboard, said #RideWithOPD is a way to share with the public a behind-the-scenes look at law enforcement in Oxford.

“A lot of folks think that Oxford’s Mayberry, that there’s no crime here, that we sit around all day,” Sessums said. “I think it gives a good inside look at not only police work, but police work here in Oxford.”

The department has more than 37,000 followers, and Sessums said that has everything to do with being transparent in the community, while adding a little wittiness into the mix.

It’s not uncommon to see gifs or pop-culture references on the account, especially during #RideWithOPD events or Ole Miss football game days. Interaction with followers is also a contributing factor to the OPD Twitter account’s success, Sessums said.

During the first #RideWithOPD in 2015, Sessums recalled an incident in which officers got a call for a disturbance at an apartment complex.

“We got a call for a disturbance, and ended up confiscating a pound of weed, which they stored in these nice pelican cases,” Sessums said, referring to a photo OPD tweeted at the time. “I think that kind of set the tone for #RideWithOPD. It gives it a level of transparency with what we do, but there’s also interaction.”

Friday night’s #RideWithOPD event saw everything from a two-for-one arrest with a DUI and outstanding warrants to Oxford Mounted Patrol conducting a traffic stop.

While the general consensus is supportive, Sessums said there are a few nay-sayers who “can’t believe their taxpayer dollars are funding someone playing on Twitter.” However, he’s quick to point out that he’s not just sitting behind a keyboard, and neither are the officers.

Creating a #RideWithOPD tweet, Sessums explained, requires boots on the ground and eyes on the action. When an officer gets a call for something unusual, the officer reports back to Sessums, who crafts a tweet and tries to insert a little humor into the situation, where appropriate.

“A lot of the stuff we post about is misdemeanors, so we do try to be careful about people’s identities,” he said. “If I have a photo, I’ll blur the face or pixelate it. Folks will call themselves out, or their friends will, and that’s out of control.”

While some things out of the ordinary happen during #RideWithOPD, the department also reports on events as commonplace as speeding and 911 hangups. Creating a space where followers can interact with officers is key to fostering a good relationship with the public, he said.

Tearing down the “us versus them” mentality is one of the main reasons Sessums said he runs the OPD Twitter account the way he does.

“Chief (Joey East) has stressed community policing. It’s more than just riding around with our windows up, making traffic stops and arrests,” Sessums said. “We had Lance Reed from Chick-fil-A come speak with us this week, and he talked about ‘second-mile service.’ I relate that with how Oxford Police works, by helping people who’ve run out of gas, or giving children a ride or even just stopping at a lemonade stand. We want to go not just the extra mile, but the second mile for our community.”

OPD hosts two or three #RideWithOPD events every year, and Sessums said followers need to be on the lookout for more in coming months. OPD can be found on Twitter @OxfordPolice.