Our social:

Post from category:

Seizing the Virtual Scene

The Art of the Hashtag on Twitter


When law enforcement arrives on the scene of a situation, there’s no mistaking who is in control. The cops string the yellow tape and take over and no one is allowed to enter the restricted area. But faster than the yellow tape goes up, the virtual scene has been created with the conversation that starts in social media. These days, it’s most certainly on Twitter.

Law enforcement can’t control the virtual scene. But there is absolutely no good reason why law enforcement shouldn’t be participating in it. Get into the conversation early and you can wield more influence than you might think, on Twitter, it’s all in the hashtag.

#hashtags defined

A hashtag on Twitter is simply a word, or an acronym that is preceded with the hash mark, aka pound sign (#). In Twitter, beginning a word with that symbol makes it clickable. You click on it and you get all the tweets sent with that hashtag IN them. What’s the relevance? If you just tweet as the PD, especially in a contentious situation, who do you think really sees those tweets? MAYBE some of your followers. But the people who you really want to see the tweets won’t, because THEY aren’t following you, they’re following the hashtag(s) for the event.

What’s the magic about?

You’re ABC PD and you have a situation – let’s say a protest, or a shooting in a school, or any event. Sometimes you know ahead of time that the event will happen, sometimes you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Often, people are already tweeting about the topic or event with a hashtag. If so, use it. If not, don’t hesitate, create it yourself.

A hashtag can be created immediately, right on the spot. If the media or the public hasn’t created a hashtag that is relevant to your event, create it yourself. Keep it as short as possible as it uses up some of your 140 characters in every tweet. Then, check to see that it’s not being used to signify something else (with a quick Twitter search), then just USE IT in your tweets. Others (media) will follow and also use the hashtag.

Imagine that you know a protest is coming. There are thousands of people in your streets. As in any mob situation, a few are really angry and/or motivated and the rest are just following along.  On Twitter, all it takes is one or a few of them to begin to suggest acts of violence or spread rumors that might agitate. Until Twitter, you had no way of communicating directly to them, in the moment. The officers at the scene, even if they could get through to them (with billy sticks, shields, masks and other ominous gear) don’t really know the details themselves. But back at incident command, YOU do. So tweet. But USE THE HASHTAG.

By using the hashtag relevant to an event, you are injecting yourself into that situation/event. You are forcing people who could care less about what you have to say to see what you have to say. The protesters who are following the hashtag will start seeing your tweets. Their first reaction might be surprise to see your messages. After that, what might happen is that the followers in the middle of the pack who could be swayed either way might otherwise go with the crowd because they were believing false rumors. If they see your tweets of reality and public safety, they might think twice about their own actions and make a better decision.

Case Studies

Back in April, 2010 in Dudley, England, (West Midlands Police) Chief Inspector Mark Payne wrote about how he positively influenced the outcome of a protest between the English Defense League (hashtag #edl) and United Against Fascism (#uaf).  Vandalism was reported by the protestors and one side and he refuted it on Twitter and potential threat to the safety of another person was also refuted. Payne believes his tweets positively effected the outcome of the situation.

With the current flood situation in the Northwest area of Australia, Victoria Police are tweeting messages about bridge outages and openings and other safety messages with the hashtag #vicfloods. Without the hashtags, the people looking for information might not think to look up the police on Twitter. They will quickly find the hashtag and will likely trust the information they receive from the police as a result.

In the second half of this series is a post from Constable Scott Mills of Toronto Police describing how he positively effected a situation where a gun was shot inside a high school in his city. By quickly creating a hashtag and tweeting to the media where a Toronto media officer was located he kept the media at bay, and by tweeting that no one was hurt he calmed the nerves of 4,000 parents. It might have been a very chaotic situation. The media also picked up on the hashtag and used it and also followed him and reported the content of his tweets on the noon news.

Tomorrow on ConnectedCOPS, another case study on hashtags from Constable Scott Mills


When a situation happens fast, don’t forget Twitter, as crazy as it may seem. But, especially when you know you have an upcoming contentious event and you plan a strategy, include it in the strategy, the chances that you might influence the outcome in a positive way are real.

Click here for a helpful list of law enforcement hashtags from #PoliceOfficer

Facebook: a Useful Tool for Police?

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

Drugs, dealing with the dealers

This week my officers swooped on a large scale drug supplier, we recovered about 4 kilos of class A & class B drugs, together with several thousand pounds cash. The dealer and his accomplice have both been charged and remanded. The week before that the courts granted an order taking £56,000 off another dealer and a further order setting out a repayment order of over £800,000 against him.

I tweeted the result and got a great response, people seem to enjoy seeing drug dealers locked up. I also got another familiar response, ‘Great result but what about the drug dealers where I live?’ Communities see people dealing drugs outside their houses every day, and understandably get frustrated when they don’t see the police taking action. As somebody who has run a drugs job or two, I thought I might set out some of the issues that we have to address when we are dealing with the dealers.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, we have to prove that they have actually dealt some drugs, or intend to deal them. This is not as easy as you might assume. People caught with relatively large quantities of drugs will often claim they are for personal use, but as they are regular users they have ‘bought in bulk.’ Although this might seem ridiculous to normal people, you need to bear in mind that we have to prove everything to a court ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’ All the prospective dealer has to do is establish that doubt and they know they will get away with a simple possession of drugs charge which carries much lighter punishment. Therefore any dealer worth their salt will only carry small amounts at any one time, going back to their stash to stock up on a regular basis.

So if just finding somebody with quantities of drugs is not enough, we have to use different techniques to prove they are dealing. We will often watch several deals take place, arresting the buyer out of the sight of the dealer, to prove to a court that there is a course of action taking place. As you can imagine this carries quite a large risk of compromise. Dealers will tend to sell drugs in areas they know and where they are comfortable. Police activity in these areas will quickly get reported back to the dealers and they will shut up shop.

When we are told about a dealer, we often execute warrants at their houses. Again this does not always bring success. They do not leave their drugs lying about for us to stumble across, they hide them, and they actually put quite a lot of thought into it. The dealer who we took the £56,ooo at the start of this blog was burying his drugs in an old lady’s back garden which was insecure.

Taking out a good drug dealer often required many hours of painstaking surveillance and gathering of evidence. This is expensive and difficult. It requires the completion of reams of forms to get the authorities and the painstaking compliation of the evidence gathered. Drugs are exchanged in very small packages, and it is not always obvious when a deal has taken place, again the ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ arguement is applied, we have to prove that our potential dealer is not a raging socialite who often meets up with 200 people a day for around thirty seconds at a time.

There are few things more satisfying than unearthing a dealers stash, knowing that you have the evidence to link them to it. Police officers continue to arrest dealers and enforce the law, but it is not as straightforwards as you might think. I hope this blog has given you an insight into the day to day battle that we have with dealers, and the reasons why it might appear that we aren’t taking action.

It is really important that people work with us. If you suspect somebody is dealing drugs, tell us. You might not see immediate action, but it starts the ball rolling, and is sometimes the little piece of knowledge that we need. We know communities want to help us, they don’t want dealers on their street corners or outside their kids school. The best weapon we have at our disposal is information from the public.

Thanks for reading, let me have your thoughts…

Mark Payne

Mark is Superintendent for the West Midlands Police, UK; a police officer for 15 years mainly as a detective.   CI Payne was part of the “Police Who Tweet” panel, moderated by Lauri Stevens, at the 140 Characters Conference in London on Nov 17th. Chief Inspector Payne has started his own blog, where this article was also published. He tweets as @CIPayneWMPolice

Tayside Police to be the First Force in the UK to Test New Feedback System

What follows is a press release from MyPolice

On January 17th Tayside Police will break new ground as the first force in the UK to take public engagement into the 21st Century in partnership with social engagement firm MyPolice.

MyPolice is a website where the police and the public engage in local conversations.

Tayside are to participate in a three-month trial of the innovative service, which allows people to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of local policing and discuss local issues with officers. During the pilot, eight officers of various ranks will communicate online with members of the public living in the South Perthshire area of Tayside.

The service is expected to make it easier for the public to understand the way their communities are policed, while improving the ability of the Tayside force to communicate new developments, explain its aims and achievements and even challenges. The initiative has been backed by the Scottish Government:

“The Scottish Government recognises that it is vital that communities are empowered to participate in the planning of local strategies, and feel a sense of ownership of what happens within those communities. A variety of initiatives are underway to encourage this – for example the Community Wellbeing Champions Initiative, sponsored by both the Scottish Government and COSLA, provides a real opportunity for communities to make decisions on how resources locally are used to combat antisocial behaviour. MyPolice will provide a further opportunity for meaningful conversation and we await the results of the pilot with interest”

Following the pilot MyPolice intends to roll the service out UK-wide.

MyPolice allows people to send feedback and give their opinion about about their experiences, both positive and negative. MyPolice aim to ensure this feedback is responded to by the relevant police department / community officer. Secondly, it is an impartial, independent space where people can find out who their local police are, and what they do. Finally, MyPolice collects data based on real customer experience and feeds it back to the police, which creates a deeper understanding of what the public wants, bringing the police and public closer together.

In providing analysis and data for the police to act on, MyPolice challenges and helps make policy decisions, ensuring that service users have an active part in identifying opportunities for service improvement. It’s a place where people can see how their thoughts translate directly into action. Pre-testing attracted stories ranging from local experiences about parking to the reporting sexual assault. All content can be pushed through existing social media channels.

MyPolice is a limited company based in Glasgow, funded by various social entrepreneurial funds. The independent company was founded by two Scottish designers; Sarah Drummond and Lauren Currie a year ago. The idea came from Sarah winning Social Innovation Camp – an event that brings together ideas, people and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems

After the pilot phase, MyPolice intends to be a website that provides one national site for discussion of police services –with postcodes allowing comments to be directed to the appropriate force. Police forces will pay a small annual fee to receive the service.

The Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary announced in March that it was to launch a similar website and scrapped the idea a few weeks later.

Are the police listening? Yes

Log on to http://www.tayside.mypolice.org


If you would like more information about the pilot, or to schedule an interview with Lauren Currie, please call Kirsty Sinclair at 0141 566 1492 or email Kirsty at pr@mypolice.org

If you would like more information from Tayside Police about the pilot, or to schedule an interview with Phil Johnston, please call Phil at 01382 59674 or email Phil at philip.johnston@tayside.pnn.police.uk

SMILE Conference Huge Success In Santa Monica, Next Stop Chicago

social media & law enforcement

The SMILE Conference held 01/10/11 to 01/12/11 in Santa Monica, California was a huge success. Beyond the fact that the conference sold out and there were more sponsors (Raytheon, Alderson Software/Crime Stoppers, Securitas) than the initial SMILE conference in Washington D.C. 04/2010, this conference was hosted graciously by the Santa Monica Police Department at the awesome Rand Center. The sponsors and accommodations were great, but the speakers and attendees were really what made this conference awesome. There were over 120 attendees representing 5 different countries and law enforcement agencies all over the United States as well as the world.

The expertise that was shared from Chief Jackman (Santa Monica P.D.) to Mike Bostic (Raytheon) and all speakers in between was intimidating to me as a fellow speaker. As a speaker you would assume you are on the same level as the other speakers, but for me personally I ended up learning much more than I shared. Not surprising, but a particularly interesting presentation for me was Mike Bostic’s presentation on “LTE and What it Means to Public Safety: a Convergence of All Internet Capabilities” had my mind spinning. Another area I was not nearly as knowledgeable of was “Cyber Bullying.” Tuesday’s speakers focused on the topic of “Cyber Bullying” and other internet crimes such as child pornography, sexual predators, and other sex related crimes. The speaker caliber for Tuesday’s presentations was top notch as were the speakers for all days presentations.

I am honored to have been a speaker at both SMILE Conferences thus far and I am looking forward to participating in the next SMILE Conference in Chicago May 9th-11th 2011, to be hosted by the Chicago Police Department.

Page 59 of 81« First...102030...5758596061...7080...Last »