Most police forces in the UK, now have Facebook pages, but, is Facebook a useful and effective tool for police use? Does it increase community confidence, generate support for the police and provide a mechanism for engagement that meets peoples’ needs?

Those were some of the key questions that the North Down area of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recently set out to find answers to. The results, unveiled publicly at the North Down District Policing Partnership meeting yesterday, seem to say, yes, yes and yes.

PSNI launched a trial of local area Facebook pages nearly 12 months ago, with North Down being one of the pilot areas. Within North Down Facebook pages were set up by the Bangor and Holywood (Twitter: @psnibangor & @psniholywood) neighbourhood teams. By mid November 2010, the pages had 8,000+ registered fans and many more followers. However, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, were the pages effective?

To find out, PSNI North Down initiated a multi channel survey.

One thousand surveys were posted to local households throughout the Holywood area of North Down; face to face consultation with people in Holywood was undertaken by District Policing Partnership members; survey information was collected from local residents, businesses and parents of primary school pupils; the views of 281 Year 13 and Year 14 pupils were sought in two local colleges; an online survey was created and placed on the PSNI Holywood Facebook page (PSNI’s first online survey of this nature).

The surveys were carried out in November and December 2010 and resulted in 695 completed questionnaires being received. Modestly, the PSNI describes the survey as ‘one of the first comprehensive studies demonstrating the value of social media pages like Facebook to policing’.


So what were the findings? Well:

Seven out of ten of the survey respondents (71%) used Facebook, validating the police decision to use the service. Just over half (53%) of all respondents had accessed the PSNI Holywood Facebook page and of those that accessed the page:

85% stated it provides a platform for local people to get involved in making Holywood safer

83% stated it helps increase support for police activity

82% stated it provides information on how people can get involved in making themselves and Holywood safer

75% stated it improves the service offered by Holywood police and

70% stated it increases their confidence in Holywood police.

The page now has over 3,000 registered fans, which is equivalent to 20% of the town’s total population (15,000) and allows police to communicate local crime appeals and prevention advice to as many of 60% of its homes (6,000) instantly.

This level of engagement with local policing is not confined to the one area, but seems to resonate with other communities too. During the same period the pilot Facebook pages in the PSNI Ards area has impressively, gained over 7,000 followers. This equates to 9% of that area’s total population or 20% of it’s homes.

Just over 20% of the survey respondents use Facebook but have not yet accessed the PSNI Holywood page and officers are aware that there remains significant potential for further growth.

Interestingly the survey itself has had a knock on effect and has generated even more awareness of the existence of the page, which in turn appears to have contributed to further recent growth in the numbers of those following.

Satisfaction & Public Confidence

The Facebook Pages are part of a wider neighbourhood policing initiative (that comprised of a range of activities including ride alongs, information cards and wider publicity) in the area, the result of which has been a significant rise in public satisfaction with local policing.

Comparing the survey results with those from Holywood neighbourhood respondents in the 2010 DPP Public Consultation Survey (which was conducted during February/March 2010), there has been an 18% increase in the proportion of respondents who stated the police were doing a good job where they live, and a 5% reduction in the proportion of respondents who stated the police were doing a poor job where they live.


Almost one third (32%) of survey respondents said that they know their local neighbourhood police officer, which is an increase of 26% on the 2010 DPP (February March 2010).


Inspector Bobby Singleton was the Neighbourhood Inspector for Holywood during the trial period and in his view “Facebook has already demonstrated its potential with the recovery of two stolen cars, a stolen bicycle and the arrest of a male for burglary the direct result of appeals through the page. For a small town these were far from insignificant results. It’s great to now have some more hard evidence to support our instincts and the positive anecdotal feedback we’ve received from the public”.

His boss, the Area Commander for North Down, Chief Inspector Mark McEwan, agrees:

“The focus of the initiative has been about developing our relationship with the community; the survey justifies the investment we’ve made over the last twelve months. Through this evaluation we have been able to establish exactly what the benefits of the initiative have been, where we can improve and how much some of our conventional community engagement is still valued by the community”.

Note: Chief Inspector Philip Knox of PSNI Ards will speak about the force’s use of Facebook at the upcoming SMILE Conference in Chicago. Mike Alderson (author of this post) will also appear as a speaker in Chicago.

Mike Alderson is a former senior officer in the UK’s Sussex Police. He is now a Director of Open Eye Communications Ltd, a company which designs and delivers training programmes and provides consultancy services in the police, local authority and wider public sector fields on leadership, customer service, customer experience, effective communication and media management, neighbourhood policing and citizen focused policing. @openeyecomms | Website: Open Eye Communications