Kansas Highway Patrol Technical Trooper Ben Gardner is able to communicate with people around the world from the driver's seat of his patrol vehicle.

Gardner recently earned an award for "Best International Account" from the United Kingdom-based Police Twitter Awards.

It has taken several years for Gardner to build his audience of more than 32,000 Twitter followers.

"I remember thinking, 'I'm at 300 followers,' and how that was exciting," Gardner said.

Gardner's Twitter account — @TrooperBenKHP — now gets around 1,000 new followers per month.

Gardner became fascinated with the efficiency of using Twitter after following other public information officers' accounts.

At the time, the Kansas Highway Patrol discouraged using social media.

"Policy said not to be on social media, but then we also had a policy that the public information officers had to have good working relationships with the media outlets and to be accessible and to push out information that was accurate," Gardner said.

Gardner called several other KHP PIOs and asked them to join him on Twitter.

"I thought, 'let's start using this thing and see how I can use it within the highway patrol,'" Gardner said.

They soon found that using social media had advantages over traditional press releases.

"There was a big winter storm and I used the hashtag #stayhome," Gardner said. "I was using Twitter to really push out a lot of safety messages."

Within hours, media outlets had picked up on his Twitter account and the information he posted.

"They started seeing all my tweets, retweeting and sharing and then they were going live with, 'Trooper Ben just said this road was closed.' 'Trooper Ben just said he worked a three-car wreck.' It was just so fast that it absolutely reinforced in my mind that we needed to be doing this more," Gardner said.

The majority of Gardner's tweets focus on the topics of wearing seat belts, avoiding distracted driving and having a designated driver. He crafts his messages with references to sports, popular culture and one of his favorite foods — chili.

"My hope is that, through humor, I get a person to see that message and maybe they will pause and think about what their activities are that day or the next day and how they can better prepare," Gardner said.

More than 23,500 tweets later, he is far from running out of topics to talk about.

"My mind is always spinning," Gardner laughed.

Gardner tweets out pictures and live videos whenever he can to tell stories about what KHP troopers are doing.

"In years past, I don't know if we were doing that as well as we should have, but now through social media and Twitter and Facebook, it's allowed us to showcase this uniform and patch and to be known not just in our state, but farther than that, and that's a good thing," Gardner said.

Gardner often invites his followers to ask him questions about everything from traffic laws to what it takes to be a part of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

"It's impacting people in our own state and maybe getting them to consider a career in the highway patrol — whether it's a dispatcher or a motorist assist or a trooper," Gardner said. "It gives us the chance to recruit and to humanize ourselves not just as a person with a badge and a gun but someone who has difficulties and emotions and highs and lows on the job — to be real."

Some messages Gardner receives are rude or overtly hostile.

"I will start a discussion with them because then it gives my followers a chance to see that this is some of the world that officers have to deal with and it reinforces how difficult it is," Gardner said.

It may take weeks or months, but Gardner said he has seen some individuals come to respect what he does.

"Being on social media, while you have the negative contacts that come in, it serves as an opportunity to show how your agency can respond to them," Gardner said. "It gives me a chance, even with those that are anti-law enforcement, to listen and build a bridge."

Other law enforcement agencies have asked Gardner to assist them in creating a plan for their social media presence.

"There are several state agencies that you can see they're looking at us — Kansas — as a lead and they're following behind," Gardner said. "It's nice to know the Kansas Highway Patrol is leading that charge; that we're stepping forward."

Gardner grins from ear to ear when he talks about winning the Police Twitter Award.

"It validates the things that I'm passionate about, so that feels good. It's always nice to feel appreciated," Gardner said. "It fills me full of pride to know that the Kansas Highway Patrol is being mentioned or referenced in the United Kingdom."

For more information about the Police Twitter awards, visit https://www.policetwitterawards.com.

To learn more about the Kansas Highway Patrol, visit http://kansashighwaypatrol.org.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.