Russell Webster

Police countdown to Christmas with #Badvent calendars

Police Social Media ingenuity

English police forces have been at the forefront of using digital technology in general and social media in particular to develop innovative ways of engaging with their local communities. If you’re interested in police use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and the rest, you can check out a whole range of examples here.

Christmas 2013 has seen a new trend – digital Advent Calendars with a diversity of approach, to say the least. This post features a couple of examples.

Greater Manchester Police Child’s Play

Greater Manchester Police – @gmpolice on Twitter – are acknowledged as being one of the leading forces in using social media. They spent considerable time and energy working with local primary school children to produce a series of short videos. The theme is “Christmas Safety is Child’s Play” and the videos are uploaded daily and promoted via Twitter, Facebook etc.

GM Police seem to have a knack of doing this sort of thing well, high production values but with real people. Here’s the first video in the series:

The #Badvent Calendar

Nottinghamshire Police – @nottspolice – went in a different direction entirely. Their online advent calendar replaces the daily chocolate with the picture of a “most wanted” local criminal. Originally termed the #Badvent Calendar, it was renamed the “Festive Crime Calendar”. It’s still a strong contender for my hashtag of the year award.

badvent

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, none of the first nine miscreants has been apprehended.

You can get an update here

Please contribute any other seasonal comms ingenuity via the comment section below.

Sign up to get Twitter Alerts from your emergency services

Emergency Tweets

Twitter has just launched a new service in the UK – “Twitter Alerts”. This is a new facility (already tested in the US) aimed at emergency services to enable them to get critical information out as quickly as possible to the general public.

All the UK’s 47 police services, the London Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service, Mayor of London, the Foreign Office and the Environment Agency have all signed up (you can see a full list of participating services here). From 18 November 2013, these organisations will be able to highlight critical information to their Twitter followers by marking Tweets as alerts, which highlight a Tweet with an orange bell for added visibility.

Twitter users who sign up for an account’s Twitter Alerts will receive a notification directly to their phone via SMS. Users of Twitter for iPhone or Twitter for Android will also receive a push notification direct to their mobile. It’s a very straightforward process to subscribe – it took me 10 seconds to sign up to the Met Police Twitter Alert page here. Twitter even filled in my mobile phone number automatically for me.

Twitter Alerts in action

It is up to each emergency service to decide in what circumstances it should use a Twitter Alert. But, obviously, services will want to restrict their use carefully to crisis, disaster and emergency communications where spreading accurate safety information is critical.

Here are a few examples of real-life Twitter Alerts from the US:

 

Tornado Watch in effect for all of NJ. Be prepared to act quickly if warnings are issued by NWS. http://t.co/bLiQJE5qyb #alert

— NJ OEM (@ReadyNJ) October 7, 2013

 

USCP investigating reports of gunshots on Capitol Hill. If in a #Senate office, shelter in place. If not go to nearest office. #alert

— SenateSergeantAtArms (@SenateSAA) October 3, 2013

 

It’s easy to think of recent circumstances in the UK where Twitter Alerts would have been invaluable. Ones that spring to my mind include:

  • When the murderer Raoul Moat was on the run in Northumbria
  • When the two people who murdered drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich were still at large
  • During the course of the recent storms on 28 October 2013

Twitter Alerts would also be an invaluable resource around major fires and bomb alerts. The fact that so many people are almost always online via their mobile phones means not only that critical information can be disseminated at great speed but also that those of us receiving the alerts can share and pass them on and target them at loved ones we know might be in harm’s way.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter Alerts operate in practice in the UK.

 

I’m sorry Sir, it’s against the law

I’m sorry Sir, it’s against the law

There are plenty of arcane, not to say bizarre laws in the UK.

  • MPs aren’t aware of wear armour in parliament.
  • You can’t beat or shake a carpet rug in any street in the Metropolitan Police District.
  • It’s illegal to import Polish potatoes (put on the Statute Book in 2004)

For more examples, see here.

Some of the laws don’t prohibit behaviour but officially sanction it:

Like the right to drive sheep across London Bridge as freemen of the City of London

Or the right for pregnant women to relieve themselves anywhere they see fit.

However, as usual, we must acknowledge the superiority of our US friends when it comes to the wild and wacky category:

See the infographic below to find out:

 

Strangest Laws Still in Effect Today

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

 

Police pin down criminals

Pinteresting times

At the last count, there were 70 million registered Pinterest users with just over 2 million in the UK.

Most people use Pinterest to browse retail stores or indulge their interest in fashion, food and drink, or their own particular hobby or passion – be it tattoos or Moorish architecture.

I tend to use it as a way of storing and sharing infographics relating to my work interests – social media, drugs and crime.

But Pinterest has other uses too, it’s become sufficiently popular for police forces all over the world to adopt it, for a wide range of purposes.

Locating the owners of stolen property

A recent post by Inspector Roger Nield (@rogernield2703) on this site describes how Surrey police in the UK used Pinterest to return a large quantity of watches and jewellery recovered from a search at a burglar’s home.

Police officers realised that it could be very difficult to locate the owners of the stolen goods since property was often poorly described on crime reports and the burglaries had taken place in several counties.

So they decided to use social media to help.

While some officers searched for all recorded burglaries committed using their arrestee’s particular MO, others took photos of each piece of jewellery and uploaded them to the Surrey police Pinterest board.

Police then wrote to every known possible victim providing a link to the Pinterest board.

This enabled possible victims to peruse the board in their own time.

Victims who weren’t sure whether an item was actually theirs could liaise with police around serial numbers, receipts and other evidence of ownership.

Interestingly, some victims who found one stolen item subsequently returned to the Pinterest board and found others.

Surrey police are confident that they have not been deceived and that only actual victims have had their, often much treasured, jewellery returned.

The Victoria Police Department in British Columbia, Canada have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to stolen goods whose owners they are trying to find.

 

Pinterest stolen property

 

Finding wanted criminals

The local paper in Pottstown Pennsylvania – The Pottstown Mercury – posts photos of  suspects wanted by the police in a number of local areas. Local police supply mugshots which are then uploaded onto the Mercury’s Pinterest Board.

 

Pinterest wanted people

 

Locating missing people

In the same way, the Kansas City Police Department maintains a Pinterest Board of local missing persons.

Sharing information about street drugs 

Kansas City Police Department also maintains a whole host of Pinterest boards.

One provides details about unsolved homicides.

Another shares images of street drugs and paraphernalia with the purpose of helping local people, particularly parents, identify substances and put them in a position to have a conversation with children/other loved ones about any drugs they might be using. The board also provides links to effective ways of talking to children about drugs.

 

Pinterest drugs

 

 

For police services all over the world, Pinterest is beginning to provide the same sort of opportunities as Twitter and Facebook (for latest police social media practice in Europe, see this series of posts).

It enables police to have a much greater reach into local communities and share information at minimal cost.

Police can use social media to broadcast information, request intelligence and, now with Pinterest, provide a better service for victims of crime.

 

If you know of other police uses of Pinterest, please let me know in the comments section below.

When Selfie Stands for Self-Incrimination

Celebs do them, teenage girls do them, even educated fleas do them.

Selfies – digital self-portraits which are then posted online – are all over the internet.

The advent of Vine has provided yet another outlet for the self-obsessed to add to the usual suspects of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

This post gives a couple of examples of how self-obsession by criminals can cause more than social embarrassment.

Self portrait

Online drug dealing is not as simple as it seems

Our first story concerns a young Canadian mechanic who has obviously read about the Silk Road and how easy it is to buy drugs online.

However, rather than worrying about bitcoins and Tor encryption, he went straight to Twitter requesting drug dealers to make a delivery to the garage where he was working – only to find that the local police were smart enough to be scanning local social media:

Stoner tweeter

 

 

The police then went one stop further and re-tweeted the original to the garage owner:

 

 

Twitter of course found the whole thing hilarious. After more than 1300 re-tweets, the guy didn’t get his cannabis but is now the best-known pothead in town:

 

 Facebook Fail

The second story is closer to home and you may well have seen it already.

It features the two prisoners at HMP Rochester who used a mobile phone they shouldn’t have had to post a Facebook picture of their cell replete with TV, Sony PlayStation etc:

Facebook prisoners

The photo made its way to the Daily Mail and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling demanded prompt action.

The pair have lost their privileges and are likely to incur extra days inside for illegal possession of the phone.

It’s obviously not just the US & UK National Security Services who keep on top of online communications.

Coppers and journalists are pretty good at it too.

 

How do we overcome Twitter abuse?

These sorts of vile attacks are horribly commonplace

The story of how hundreds of men mounted a sustained online attack on Caroline Criado-Perez, threatening her with rape and violent assault in reaction to her successful campaign to get the face of Jane Austen on British £10 bank notes has caused public outrage.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is how commonplace this sort of vile attack is. Most women Tweeters with any sort of public profile have experienced unprovoked online assaults.

The vast majority of us want to see a fast, reliable way of the perpetrators of this sort of abuse facing the consequences of their actions.

But none of us has yet come up with an effective response.

There are too many of these cases to expect the police to prioritise online investigations.
In the same way, Twitter would have to change fundamentally (not allow anonymity or charge hefty membership rates) if it took over the role of policing itself.
Similarly, although Tweeters will usually support others under-fire, the fact that this sort of perpetrator can swiftly set up numerous anonymous accounts makes that form of action ineffective.
Tweeters who are targeted can of course block offenders, but that’s almost impossible to do when you’re under sustained attack – and why should the victims of any crime be responsible for taking action?
I don’t have a great idea for a magic bullet myself.

However, there are some good articles and blog posts out there suggesting different ways forward.

I’ve assembled these into the Storify below to help readers formulate their own ideas.

Please suggest any new ideas that I can add to the collection.

 

How cops used Twitter to catch a fish called Wanda

Catch me if you can

I’ve posted before about criminals at large taunting police on social media, with varying degrees of success.

The case of Wanda Lee Ann Podgurski is a worthy addition to the catologue.

Ms Podgurski is a serial fraudster who was convicted in January 2013 of dishonestly acquiring $650,000 from fake insurance and disability claims.

She promptly went on the run.

 

AFishCalledWanda-PosterArt

 

This time it’s personal

Wanda set up a Twitter account and followed just one other tweeter – San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

Like any good new Tweeter, she carefully crafted her profile description:

“On the run, possibly in Iran.”

before tweeting

The US Marshals Fugitive Task Force was able to trace her tweet to Mexico and promptly arrested her, leaving the DA the last word on Twitter:

Read a full version of this story here.

How burglars use social media

Burglars go online to pinpoint potential victims

Criminals and law enforcement officials are early adopters of new technologies and social media in particular in their battle to outwit each other.

With recent revelations about PRISM and the activities of GCHQ you would think that law enforcement would have most to gain from the latest digital developments.

Surely, some time soon we’ll be living in a version of Minority Report where cops intervene before the crime is committed?

However, that Utopia (Dystopia?) seems to be a few years away.

In the meantime, there are plenty of ways in which burglars in particular can develop their lean systems to target and gather intelligence on potential victims and minimise the risks of getting caught.

  1. Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare are particularly straightforward ways of finding out if someone is away on holiday or business.
  2. Google StreetView makes advance reconnaissance a piece of cake.
  3. GPS data automatically embedded in social media platforms and photos provides further opportunities

The infographic below summarises some of the main techniques in current use.

Police, Twitter and major incidents

The Demos ThinkTank recently published an interesting analysis of the Twitter conversations between the Metropolitan Police and the public following the vicious murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Twitcidents

The report authors, Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, compiled almost 20,000 tweets that included the tag @MetPoliceUK from the week of the Woolwich attack.

They broke down what information people were sharing online, when they shared it and its value as a source of information.

Major incidents of whatever form – disasters, sporting events, terrorist attacks – now inevitably stimulate a massive reaction on Twitter.

These Twitter reactions tend to be very diverse but typically include the sorts of tweets characterised in the wordle I’ve assembled below:

Twitcident wordle

The question that the Demos report tries to answer is whether there is any value for police services in making sense of this surge of data in real time when confronted with the challenges of a major incident.

The challenges for the Metropolitan Police from the Woolwich incident were many and varied, including:

  • Arresting dangerous assailants.
  • Investigating a murder which took place on a public street.
  • Rapidly assessing terrorist risk and possible further incidents.
  • Making themselves available for investigation following the use of firearms in a public area.
  • Public Safety and public reassurance.
  • Gathering intelligence on the inflammatory and confrontational response from the English Defence League.
  • Community relations

As you can see, this list could go on and on – so is there really value in police taking time out to analyse tweets about the incident sent to their @metpoliceuk account?

The Twitter response

One of the first challenges is to remove and ignore the large proportion of tweets which are fake – that is, sent from automated “bot” accounts. In the case of the Woolwich incident, Demos found that 45% of the 19,344 tweets they analysed were produced by a single bot network propagating the following message:

Woolwich bot tweet

Online crime

However, on the actual day of the murder over a fifth of tweets sent to @metpoliceuk were reports of a possible crime on social media.

The most common type of tweets in this category was the referral of social media content itself as evidence about alleged or supposed on-line and off-line crimes, typically instances of threats, bullying and racism.

Once the nature of the Woolwich murder became clear, tweeters passed on information to the police about possible Islamaphobic plots and threats of violence.

Organised petitions

Another large proportion of tweets (23.2% on the day itself) consisted of systematic attempts by large bodies of people to appeal and petition the police via Twitter to influence their policy. There were two main petitions.

The first was a systematic campaign calling for the arrest of a UK-based Pakistani politician accused of inciting violence in Karachi – which did result in a Met Police investigation.

The other was a campaign to the police to release more information about the Madeleine McCann investigation.

Conversation/engagement

One in nine Tweets to the Met Twitter account on that day were direct requests for police information or action.

Some of these were reporting entirely unrelated crimes and incidents, while others wanted further information around events in Woolwich particularly whether the suspects had been arrested.

(Of course, in the recent Boston bombings, social media was used extensively as the suspects were at large for several days following the terrorist attack.)

Sending off-line evidence

Perhaps most interestingly, one in 40 tweets contained what the Tweeter considered as legally relevant, including eyewitness accounts of a wide range of crimes.

A small proportion of these tweets included potentially very useful intelligence:

intelligence tweet

Conclusion

The report authors conclude that this surge in social media interaction with police is obviously a mixed blessing; there is a small amount of potentially useful information included within a torrent of hearsay and rumour plus the inevitable general noise of people just participating in the #Twitcident without any particular motive.

It seems to me that there are two key social media challenges to police in the aftermath of major incidents:

  • To ensure that there is extra capacity to monitor social media accounts and ensure that accurate, timely and rumour busting information is sent out at regular intervals.
  • To have in place a sophisticated system to analyse tweets to provide intelligence and insight.
  • Although short, the Demos report is well worth reading in full.

What’s your experience of the pros and cons of social media following a major incident?