TAMPA — Tampa police Officer Pete Ryan knows he looks ridiculous in the video.
The 46-year-old is captured galloping on a police boat while lip-synching Carly Rae Jepsen's poppy summer hit, Call Me Maybe.
But the parody featuring more than a dozen officers caught his nephews' attention — and that was the point.
Tampa police are using social media to appeal to young residents, and this parody, which has drawn more than 45,000 views on YouTube since Monday, is just the latest example of the agency's recent push to use new platforms.
It really took off with the Republican National Convention.
The Tampa Police Department, like many law enforcement agencies, has had a Facebook account for months. It's a great way to get out positive stories, said spokeswoman Andrea Davis, who shot and edited the Call Me Maybe video and manages her agency's Facebook account.
She posts photos of the department's dogs, random acts of kindness and small news items that reporters typically do not cover.
But as the RNC approached, Tampa was told to expect this year's convention to be "the social media convention," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Twitter would be big.
"Four years ago, it was just emerging," she said.
At the Chicago NATO Summit in May, police got a preview. They noticed that police and protester perspectives were included in mainstream news. But online, the protesters reigned.
So, during the RNC, Tampa police had several people who exclusively monitored and posted information on Twitter and Facebook, McElroy said.
They corrected misinformation and put out positive stories, including the time police dropped food off at the Romneyville encampment downtown, where protesters were living.
It helped police's image, she said.
Law enforcement often battle the stereotypical image of a tough, uniformed officer, unsmiling and behind reflective sunglasses. They try to shake that because they want to appear approachable.
They need residents to feel comfortable passing along tips, McElroy said.
"Police can't be everywhere all the time," she said. "But citizens are in their neighborhoods everyday, so they will notice something suspicious that doesn't fit."
When residents see something suspicious, police say, they should call. And with that, the idea for the Call Me Maybe parody video was born.
It took time to get police Chief Jane Castor to agree — first, to allow it and then to make an appearance.
Castor, 52, laughingly attributes her initial skepticism to her age. She doesn't have a Facebook account and admits that social media is not her forte.
"But I'm cognizant enough to recognize that social media is the future of communication," she said. "It's important that we keep up with changing times."
She finally agreed to be in the video and appears 2 minutes, 36 seconds in with WTSP reporter Melanie Michael. She played along, but the chief still got her way:
"I wasn't dancing," she said.
Tampa police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office plan to increase their social media presence in the future. They've found that posting surveillance videos helps solve crimes and posting mug shots helps locate suspects.
Cristal Bermudez Nuñez, a spokeswoman at the Sheriff's Office, said she tweets traffic information and details about live crime scenes — things that could immediately affect residents.
"So they don't have to wait for the 6 or 11 o'clock news," she said.
At the police department, spokeswoman Davis said social networks allow residents to reach police in additional ways. She said people sometimes send private messages to the department.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police believes social media is so important that, in 2010, it launched a Center for Social Media to help agencies through the transition.
Last week, it featured the Tampa Police Department's video.
Nancy Kolb, who oversees the Alexandria, Va. center, said the parody was a great way to use pop culture to teach an important lesson.
"Hopefully people remember it," Kolb said.
Meanwhile, Davis, the video's creator, said she was surprised at the play it has gotten.
"I thought it would be cool," she said, "but I did not realize it would be as big as it has gotten."
Though police have been inundated with positive reaction about the video, the feedback on their posts isn't always positive. Some questioned the use of taxpayers' dollars. (Davis said she shot the video herself and edited it mostly on her own time.)
And posts about marijuana are often touchy. Earlier this month, Davis posted on Facebook a photo of three officers who apprehended a man with a small bag of marijuana.
A handful of people complained, including one who wrote:
Oh wow 50 whole grams of weed........Go catch real criminals....What atotal waste of man power 3 cops for a little weed....
Davis responded to the critics:
We enforce the law, we don't make the laws. We encourage you to contact your elected officials to make changes. Meanwhile, these drugs won't end up in the hands of kids. …
Unlike other agencies that simply use social media to post information, Tampa police interact with commenters. According to police spokesman Janelle McGregor, it is a vital part of the job.
McGregor, who manages the agency's Twitter account, reached out to people using the hashtag #CallMeMaybe to increase hits on the YouTube video. She also regularly re-tweets items and responds directly to people posting about Tampa police.
"I think people don't expect to get that one-on-one interaction from law enforcement," she said. "But it's important in a big city, where it's easy to feel like your voice isn't heard."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected]