Our social:

Post from category:

Social media to show the human side of policing

Setting the right tone

Historically, police- public communication has tended to be formal and impersonal.

Official statements about the status of a high profile operation.

Press releases about a new initiative to tackle burglary or car crime.

The COMPOSITE report found that police communications over social media had a completely different tone to them.

The nature of interactions online, particularly when between a named frontline officer (as is typically the case in the UK) and a local community following them, tends to be much more varied.

Officers typically talk about positive news, their emotions, police culture and the day-to-day incidents that make up an average day at work.

There are a number of examples of British cops who tweet in this way including @mentalhealthcop, @DS_Rosser and @TheCustodySgt.

A Two-Way street

The report found that across Europe police forces had adapted both the style and content of their messages for social media, especially when aiming for two-way communication.

Police officers told researchers that they entirely rephrase press announcements and use an informal tone.

They also said that they had received a lot of positive feedback when posting contents that are not directly or immediately connected with current police operations.

Personal messages about an officer finishing their shift or handing over to colleagues before going on vacation, often got positive responses.

The use of social media had also revealed to many forces the high level of interest among many citizens about police and police culture.

There had been positive feedback to Twitter accounts set up for police dogs (e.g. @PDTroy with 3,000 followers) and police helicopters (such as @WYPHelicopter with over 13,000).

Posts with antique photos of police officers or information about police equipment, had also been enthusiastically received.

Greater Manchester officers reported that their attempts to keep the public informed about the 2011 riots via social media were appreciated by local citizens.

In addition to receiving lots of Tweets of support from the public, local people went so far as to bring food to the police station for officers working double shifts.

Showing humanity promotes trust

Social media has enabled police forces across the continent to engage in a series of open dialogues with local people across a much wider range of topics.

Communication moves away from being purely related to police operations and instead touches a larger number of issues that relate to citizens’ and police officers’ everyday lives.

The COMPOSITE study found that this open communication appears to have improved the levels of trust that citizens have in their police forces.

It’s hard to think of a greater justification for police use of social media.

Police use social media to leverage the wisdom of the crowd

The wisdom of the crowd

The last two posts in this series have examined the widespread take-up of social media by police forces across Europe in order to communicate more effectively with the public.

This post focuses on the benefits of this approach.

Once police have established a strong social media presence (which is amplified by their audience sharing information among their own social media circles like ripples on a pond), they can get requests for information out to large numbers of local people.

Social media warrants police attention

Both UK and German police have started publishing search warrants online as a matter of routine.

Hanover police had a history of very poor responses to search warrants which were publicised in the local press or posted in public places.

However, when they started using Facebook to publicise search warrants, they quickly found that they were much more likely to get information from the public. Even though the force only published a few messages every month, they soon passed 100,000 Facebook friends who commonly shared the police messages with their own friends.

Importantly, the police still asked people to use a regular police phone number to report information. So even though local people posted comments on Facebook about the need to find the criminal at large, actual information about a wanted person’s whereabouts was reported by phone which allowed officers to maintain their existing procedures to verify facts and to distinguish between useful and useless information.

Crowdsourcing information

UK police forces have become increasingly skilled at using a wide range of social media platforms in order to get as much useful information as possible.

The use of this approach in very high profile cases such as the Joanna Yeates murder in Bristol and the riots in English cities in August 2011 have led to the publication of requests for public information on social media sites becoming a mainstream police activity.

In the case of Joanna Yeates, Avon and Somerset Police used Facebook advertisements as a way of asking the police were information and also posted the video footage from CCTV cameras on YouTube.

After the riots, a number of police forces uploaded hundreds of photos of rioters onto Flickr and drove awareness of this drive to get criminals identified via Twitter campaigns.

A much more mundane example occurred last December when a police officer used Twitter to track down the owner of a lost iPad – after obtaining her name from a photo of a plane ticket.

The iPad was handed into Harrogate police station and PC Ed Rogerson (@hotelalpha9) managed to access photos including a flight ticket and several photos of the woman believed to be the owner. He tweeted some of the photos and used Twitter’s search facility and eventually tracked down the owner who lived 6000 miles away in Thailand.

How’s that for improving the international reputation of North Yorkshire police. Click here for the full story.


Overall, social media provides a powerful framework to ask the public for help in investigations.

While the responses, in high profile cases or the riots, can be numerous and create a lot data to deal with, they have often provided critical criminal information that could have not been gathered with traditional means.

Police use social media to communicate directly with citizens

Using social media to push information direct to the public

The COMPOSITE report found that many European police forces had taken the opportunities provided by social media to disseminate information directly to their target audiences.

Many had eagerly embraced the chance to get their exact message across without the press as an intermediary.

Most police forces have used a range of social media channels to publish information about their activities.

Once citizens have subscribed to these channels, social media is a relatively inexpensive means for police to reach a much larger proportion of their local communities with a steady stream of information.

Image: Mike Downes

What channel are you watching?

In the UK, police have mainly used Twitter, Facebook and YouTube with forces also using Flickr and Google+.

Mike Downes (@mikedownesmedia) has recently started an in-depth project analysing UK police use of different social media channels.

Some of his key findings in a survey conducted in January of this year (2013) were:

  1. 98% British police forces have a corporate Twitter account with an average of 18,000 followers
  2. 96% have Facebook accounts with over half a million people liking posts
  3. 94% have YouTube accounts with a total of more than 3,600 videos uploaded (West Yorkshire police lead the way with almost half a million views)
  4. 45% have Google+ accounts with an average of just 46 in each participating force’s circle
  5. Four police forces have started to experiment with Google+ live hangouts – a form of engagement that Mike is very keen on and a particlar expert in. (To find out more add +MikeDownes to your Google+ circle.)

Building an audience

Of course, for this approach to be effective, police forces must develop an online following.

I am aware of three main factors that have driven the high take up of members of the public following police on social media in the UK.

Devolving social media to grassroots level

The culture of the British police service (like most police forces across the world) is quasi-military, with a control and command structure and a strict hierarchy.

Despite this, most police services took the bold step of encouraging rank and file police officers to take to social media, reasoning that most members of the public were more likely to be interested in and relate to individual cops who worked locally and who were tweeting or posting about local crimes and issues.

Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie (@DCCTayside) who speaks for the police nationally on social media, helpfully coined the phrase:

“If I can trust my officers with a truncheon, I can trust them with Twitter”

This approach has borne fruit with over 1,000 British police officers running their own Twitter accounts.

Raising public awareness via Tweetathons

Greater Manchester were the first British force to try this approach, tweeting about every call they received over a 24 hour period. Vancouver and Zurich police have taken the same approach.

Sussex Police ran a recent Tweetathon dedicated to the issue of domestic violence.

They used the Tweetathon as a way of highlighting the issue, and encouraging victims to come forward and report crimes.

The Tweetathon was supported by two live web chats.

The number of domestic violence incidents reported over this 24 hour period was 66 compared to an average of 40 on a typical Friday.

The riots

The third factor that resulted in a large increase in the number of people following police social media accounts in the UK was the large scale rioting which took place over five days in August 2011.


Even though UK police forces only started to embrace social media three years ago, it already seems that the future of police-citizen communication will be conducted much more via Twitter, Facebook & YouTube than via television and press.

Police need to have a voice in social media

The COMPOSITE report found that police use of social media varied markedly across Europe.

Every country used social media as a source of criminal information but far fewer have, as yet, adopted the UK approach of developing a strong online presence.

The report’s authors put forward a strong five-point case as to why police forces should develop their social media communications:

1. Policing and crime are consistent hot topics across social media

People are blogging, tweeting, posting etc. about crime and policing the whole time anyway.

If police aren’t online, they can’t contribute to the debate.

2. Unofficial police social media sites are common

There are plenty of unofficial police social media sites, typically hosted by supporters of the police.

The report cites an unofficial Facebook page in Berlin with 15,000 fans and a Twitter feed in the Dutch region of Haaglanden with 2,500 followers.

If police don’t get active online and become the most popular source of police information, others will fill the void.

Without a credible police presence, the space for rumours and speculation is bound to be swiftly filled by others, some of whom will have malicious intent.

3. Social media empowers citizens to conduct their own investigations

There are many examples of ordinary people mounting searches for missing people online.

Unless these campaigns are guided by police expertise, there can be major difficulties and ordinary members of the public will find it difficult to distinguish between official police information and other sources.

We are increasingly seeing stories of private individuals conducting criminal investigations online like the case of the husband who used Facebook to track down, entrap and assault a man who had sexually assaulted his wife in the past.

4. Many people get most of their news and views via social media

Traditional forms of communication do not always reach the target audience.

The report notes that many young people in particular no longer read local newspapers (many of which, of course, have gone out of business in the UK) and that if the police need to reach this group either to broadcast or request information, they need to be using the most popular forms of modern communication.

Many English and Welsh police forces have made excellent use of locality based Facebook pages where they post local information and request intelligence about local crimes.

5. Social media is part of everyday life

Police officers are confronted with the real world effects of social media.

For instance, forces from many different countries reported that they had to police many issues which happen online including:

Online stalking and abuse (see here for new CPS guidelines defining the boundary between legal and illegal online behaviour)
Declarations that someone is going to commit suicide made on social media or websites
The reporting of child abuse and other crimes online
The organisation of large scale illegal parties is often done online

The report concludes that police forces who have a voice in social media are able to develop a reputation for honesty and accuracy which can be invaluable at times of large scale crises.

The best UK example of this is the way that @SuptPayneWMP and other police officers used social media to help mitigate the effect of the August 2011 riots on their local communities.

For details, see Superintendent Payne’s account on his blog.

Even when police make mistakes, or undertake controversial operations, social media can be an important way of engaging in a dialogue with the public and giving a more detailed, human account of the reasons behind decisions than can be done in a formal press conference with the mainstream media.

Changes to hiding from public search on Facebook

Recent changes to the Facebook privacy settings, has made it difficult for users to conceal their personal profiles, as Facebook has removed the ability to hide from public search.  Facebook profiles have the ability to be located through the Facebook search function and in some cases via search engine sites such as Google.

However there is some reprieve.  Within the Facebook Privacy Settings, you have the option to remove yourself from a search engine link. This means that persons using a search engine to look for you via a name search, should be unable to link to your Facebook profile.

Go to > Privacy Settings  > Who Can Look Me Up?  > Do you want other search engines to link to your timeline?  > Uncheck the box.  (as per diagram below)

Be aware this may not remove a link to your profile due to any public content that you post.  As a result please ensure you check your privacy settings and only post your information to friends.

Page 16 of 81« First...10...1415161718...304050...Last »