They have more than 27,000 followers on Twitter. They’re not famous, but they are well known. They live in Oxford, but they’re not the football team.
The Oxford Police Department has one of the most followed social media accounts in Oxford. They even have more followers than some sport teams at Ole Miss, and it’s all thanks to Lieutenant Hildon Sessums.
Sessums has been a OPD officer for 11 years and is in charge of the Twitter account and their popular ride-alongs. One day, Sessums came across another police department’s social media account and thought it was a great idea.
“We have a ride-along program where people can come ride in our cars, but you’re only dealing with one person, and you want to try and show as many people as possible what we do and what goes on in the city that we live in,” Sessums said. “So I pitched the idea to the chief. He liked it, and I kinda ran with it.”
Sessums has been tweeting things that happen to the police department and the community on a regular basis, and many Ole Miss students are fans of the account.
Claire Francis, a sophomore from Baton Rouge, loves the ride-alongs, where OPD officers Tweet pictures from patrol.
“I usually just see their Tweets as I’m scrolling through my Twitter timeline,” Francis said, “but if they’re doing like a ride-along, or they Tweet something especially funny, I might click through and look at their profile.”
Many students find the Tweets humorous, but Francis believes they are important.
“It gives a lot of insight into what OPD does, and I think it helps foster a better relationship between the OPD and Ole Miss students by making them more relatable,” she said. “I think it helps people to see police as humans doing their job rather than ‘the bad guys.'”
Sessums said he started the social media account right after the events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri regarding police.
“I felt like Ferguson was being beat up because they weren’t putting any information out and kept being secretive, so I made a proposal to try to be more transparent,” he said. “You don’t have to put every thing out there, but if you give the public a little bit, they feel like you’re not trying to hide anything.”
Grayson Ram, a sophomore from St. Louis, said the St. Louis police community does not Tweet like the OPD does.
“The stuff that happens in a small college town would probably be way more appealing or funny than stuff in my hometown,” she said. “I love the ride-alongs because it’s always a bunch of stupid, funny stuff that people get caught for (pictures included) that are hilarious, and the guy who writes the Tweets usually includes a sarcastic edge to the Tweets making them pretty funny.”
Francis said her hometown police do not have a social media account.
“The Baton Rouge Police Department doesn’t do anything like this,” she said. “I kind of wish they did because it really does make a better relationship between citizens and police. But at the same time, Baton Rouge has a lot more violent crime than Oxford does, so I think there would have to be a more carefully drawn line in order for them not to go too far when trying to be funny.”
Not everything is put on the OPD social media account.
“Some of the Twitter content depends on if I’m working, or if somebody else working has access to it,” Sessums said. “Major events, we aren’t going to put out there right off the bat. We aren’t going to post names and pictures of people with misdemeanors, but other than that, everything else is fair game.”
Sessums believes the account is popular because people are fascinated with police work.
“Some of the most successful shows on TV are cop shows,” he said. “Shows like ‘SVU’ are popular, and the show ‘Cops’ has been running for 30 years.”
Sessums thinks a lot of people know what police work is, but they don’t really have any idea what they do.
“We found something that works,” he said. “We found a niche. We found a way to build and communicate with everyone.”