Kerry Blakeman, a Chief Inspector at West Midlands Police in England, had observed his daughter watching a live broadcast of, and sending messages to, a pop star via Twitcam. Then, it occurred to him, why not “give it a go” for policing? “So I thought actually I could do a live broadcast and people don’t have to leave their home. They can ask me questions about policing in Coventry… I wanted to reach out to different members of the community specifically young people who rarely come to one of our meetings,” he said.
Taking the Public Safety Dialog on the Road
Blakeman held his first broadcast from his dining room, but since then has teamed up with Simon Shilton, Operations Commander at West Midlands Fire Department and took the Twitcam broadcasts to the streets of Coventry. CI Blakeman tweeted asking businesses in the area if they’d offer their business wifi service to the effort, “I got five replies saying come on over”. With the borrowed wifi, a cheap webcam, a tripod and a laptop, they were in business and could set up anywhere.
Since Blakeman’s solo dining room broadcast, they’ve done two more broadcasts together. The first was March 22nd, and can be viewed here. Both men agree the technology is a promising way reach the citizens they serve and address whatever is on the citizens’ minds right where they live. Shilton pointed out it’s a learning process and very much an experiment, “It’s new for us… we’re just learning as we go along”, he said. Blakeman concurs that right now they’re proving the concept and acknowledges there have been challenges, such as being asked a tough question and having to answer it live. He points to the time he was asked to justify use of force during a burglary, “you’ve really got to think on your feet. But when you get done, there’s a real feeling of – I’ve just achieved something. I’ve just represented the service well.”
So far, online viewers have numbered fewer than 30 but have included someone from Dubai and from the RCMP in Canada. Some locals also turn-out to watch in person. In one case, a boy-scout troop was in the audience. Even with a smallish audience they’ve already received intel from “younger people in terms of the kind of issues that we don’t normally get to hear about, like drug abuse and drug dealing,” said Blakeman. It works both ways because the citizens receive some great information as well. Blakeman said he might include a police demo in a future broadcast, perhaps even a taser demonstration.
What is Twitcam?
Twitcam is a Livestream product that’s been around since summer of 2009. To broadcast you need a Twitter account. Sign in with Twitter and click “broadcast”. Once the system accesses your camera and microphone, you’re online. Twitcam provides a tweetable link to send to your Twitter followers. Viewers can send the broadcaster messages via the Twitcam dashboard as illustrated here with a screenshot from Blakeman’s first broadcast.
To assist his colleagues, Blakeman wrote a Twitcam guide with step by step instructions and a synopsis of the questions and comments from citizens. Here is a representative sample:
- Can you do anything to ENCOURAGE Warwickshire Police to use twitter or twitcam?
- What is your opinion on the relationship with teenagers and police?
- Do you think we should have elected Police commissioners?
- Is the rumour true that all potential recruits to police will have 2 be specials first?
- Here’s a question! How can the general public help you with policing in Coventry?
- Burglary was at a high recently what have you been doing to drive it down?
- Thank you so much for your Twitcam session. It was excellent. It’s a great way for you to talk to the public.
- Glad it went well. I didn’t tune in – I was watching the football!
His colleagues are noticing
The UK’s ACPO-appointed (Asso of Chief Police Officers) Social Media lead law officer is Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie. DCC Scobbie said he’s very excited by the potential for Twitcam broadcasts because they get at the heart of both social media and policing, allowing for the delivery of messages to the public in a very direct way. “It also shows Kerry and those supporting him to be human beings with a personality. This builds on the trust, confidence and legitimacy areas which are so important to delivering excellent local policing”, he added. Scobbie also praised Blakeman’s initiative because he “understands the power of using social media whilst being physically present in the community.”
DCC Scobbie plans to implement Twitcam broadcasts at his own service in Tayside, Scotland. But he cautions that not everyone will have the skill to deliver it successfully. “This is true for all social media, the personality and ability to connect with the community and individuals is not something that everyone can do well. Officers and police staff need to have self awareness in this regard,” Scobbie said.
Shilton and Blakeman have plans for many more public broadcasts. Shilton added, “We’re happy that people are logging on and interested in what we have to say. The proof in the pudding will be if we start losing viewers. That’ll be the message to us that we’re not doing things right. As long as we keep growing in numbers, we’ll know that we’re hitting the right mark.”
So if you happen to find yourself in Coventry and see a cop and a firefighter talking to a tiny camera, know that what you don’t see is probably dozens, if not by then 100s of Coventry citizens receiving some fantastic public safety service from a couple of very dedicated and forward-thinking first responders.