COMPOSITE (COMparative POlice Studies In The EU) is a project carried out by researchers and police experts from ten European countries. Their second report on technology adaptation, just released, is based on interviews and workshops with IT experts from the police forces of, among others, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. It brings together the experiences of the pioneers and early adopters of social media among the European police forces. As one example, in many police stations in the UK the active use of social media is a regular part of their normal business. Acting like their own press department, the officers use the social media to keep the people in their constabulary informed about their activities, to publish warnings or search warrants.
Active use of the social media by the police directly impacts the relationship between the police and the general public on several different levels. Through closer interaction and dialogue, the police work becomes more transparent. Citizens see their police officers more as ‘human’ and have better trust in them. This effect is intensified by the personal style of communication typical of social media, a stark contrast to the normal bureaucratic language of public administrations.
“Police work in general and specific incidents are discussed in the social media anyway. Therefore, the question is not whether the social media are appropriate for police topics, but how the police forces get involved and reap the benefits. If the police is not active, others fill the void”, remarks the project’s coordinator, Dr. Sebastian Denef from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT. One example is an unofficial Facebook page with news on the Berlin police, with more than 15,000 fans. And in the Dutch region of Haaglanden, a Twitter channel of a self-appointed police fan has some 2,500 followers. The lack of a trustworthy police presence in the social media can thus provide a fertile ground for rumors, speculations and misunderstandings.
An additional study on Police use of Social Media by the COMPOSITE project is measuring attitudes worldwide. You can take part by clicking here.