Tag Archive for West Midlands Police

ConnectedCOPS Awards 2013: Finalists for Top Cop Award

ConnectedCOPS Top Cop

This award is given to the sworn law enforcement executive of the rank of LT (or its international equivalent) and above, at any worldwide law enforcement agency who has demonstrated significant and sustained executive leadership to further the use of social media and Internet technologies in law enforcement. This individual is a risk-taker and a pioneer in his or her promotion and use of social media in policing. The recipient of the Top Cop Award also gives his thought leadership and expertise freely to others.

The three finalists are:

Chief Brian Kyes, Chelsea, Ma Police
Because of Chief Kyes’ tireless devotion and commitment, and in a very short amount of time, the Chelsea Police Department has developed a strong presence in social media. The Chelsea Police Department launched a brand new multi-lingual ChelseaPolice.com web site. The site offers a lot of information for the public to access with a blog, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and the Chief’s Weekly. Chief Kyes always stresses the need to acknowledge the diversity of the city and build a program where citizens could become more engaged with public safety and related events.

Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, Toronto Police
Because he was so quick to see the benefits of implementing social media into police operations, Deputy Chief Sloly was among the earliest of adopters of open source technology into law enforcement. Three years into the Force’s Social Media Strategy, over 300 members have been trained and authorized to represent TPS in social media. Deputy Sloly’s approach has been to decentralize social communications. His colleagues and subordinates will say they believe his approach is saving lives. Deputy Sloly is constantly called upon to share his knowledge at police and social media conferences, which he does regularly.

Inspector Michael Brown, West Midlands Police, UK
Inspector Brown is widely known and recognized for his work in mental health policing. His work, especially his “Paramedic Series” of posts on his blog Mental Health Cop has educated police officers, their agencies and others internationally. Inspector Brown freely gives of his time and expertise to mentor his colleagues at hospitals, ambulances services, mental health units as well as patients.

Finalists in the other awards categories have been announced throughout this week on this blog. Check back to see the finalists for the Excellence at a Large Agency Award tomorrow. Winners will be announced September 25th at the SMILE Conference in Omaha, Nebraska.

The ConnectedCOPS Awards were created by LAwS Communications with the intent of recognizing the good work being done by individual officers and law enforcement agencies with social media. The international law enforcement community will be considered for these awards. Any officer or agency anywhere in the world is eligible.

Dynamic police units star in #WMPLive – a UK policing first

Don’t miss this live event 7:30pm-8:30pm BST, 2:30-3:30 EST, 11:30-12:30 PST.

FIVE of West Midlands Police’s most dynamic departments will come together during a live online ‘hangout’ in a UK policing first that promises to give viewers a real-time insight into the work of critical force units.

‘WMP Live’ sees officers from traffic, motorway policing, dogs, firearms and air operations hook-up simultaneously through a live internet streaming event on Tuesday (June 25) from 7:30pm-8:30pm BST, 2:30-3:30 EST, 11:30-12:30 PST.

Using smart-phones or tablets they’ll be filmed on duty and use the opportunity to discuss their roles, equipment at their disposal and field questions from people who join the hangout on the force’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/westmidlandspolice).

Twitter users can post their questions in advance, and during the event, using the hashtag #WMPLive.

West Midlands Police Operations Chief Inspector Kerry Blakeman, said: “We’re always keen to explore latest technology that affords new ways of reaching out to people across the West Midlands. This promises to be an exciting insight into the work of units that largely go unseen by the public.

“Officers will be filmed whilst on duty so there’s always the potential for viewers to see units being dispatched live to incidents as they happen.

“Of course there’s always the chance of technology or connections letting us down but fingers crossed everything will go to plan.”

The ‘Policing Live’ event will be anchored by former regional news presenter Llewela Bailey who’ll move the spotlight between officers. They include:

• Police dog handler and Crufts award finalist PC Dan Thomas who’ll be joined on camera by his German shepherd and Spaniel sidekicks;
• Traffic cop PC Pete Harris;
• Firearms Sergeant Mark Picken who will discuss the role of WMP’s Armed Response officers and weapons at the unit’s disposal;
• Air Observer PC Matt Smith from the force helicopter’s Birmingham Airport base…with additional footage from the on-board ‘heli-telly’ camera as it patrols the region’s skies;
• Sergeant Dean Caswell talking live during a motorway police tour.
• And Chief Superintendent Chris McKeogh who’ll give an overview of West Midlands Police’s Operations department.

A first in the UK for West Midlands Police

West Midlands Police made Press Conference history in the United Kingdom today LIVE at YouTube. For the UK, it’s the first time a police force has streamed a live press conference seeking a suspect or witness in an ongoing investigation.

In a Google world where fast is better than slow (on the web or in catching a murder), anyone can become their own media company.

According to YouTube and Magid and Associates, 25-45% of all videos viewed at YouTube are on mobile. So, creating a press conference that streams straight to someone’s pocket is sensible.

However, 67% of those mobiles views are at home (in the lounge or the bedroom) as a second screen. That means, a person is sitting in the same room as a switched on TV, but uses the mobile too.

What is happening at YouTube on their lap will not reach TV until a few hours or even half a day later.

This screen capture shows how Google favours a LIVE Video and rewards that in Search. We also have a few new features with Google+ Hangouts like a LIVE Rewind button that gives the audience complete control.

So, if you arrive at the LIVE feeds a few minutes late, one click restarts the broadcast (similar to sky or cable TV). Another click and you are LIVE again. As you drag the slider, mini thumbnails appear giving you a visual clue on what you have missed (TV does not do this).

We can also see YouTube generates a snapshot of the broadcast and places that at the YouTube LIVE page giving you an instant glimpse in the program.

Finally, this is free. Anyone can do this. Feel free to ask me how to get started.

In Canada, Constable Scott Mills of the Toronto Police Service uses backpack journalism to stream similar press conferences and reports from the street. We also have Kerry Blakeman from +West Midlands Police already using LIVE at YouTube with more planned broadcasts this month.

Constable Mills has lead the effort at Toronto Police to broadcast live from the scene of a homicide, and when Dean Wichar was arrested for the John Raposa murder, he broadcast from the lobby of Toronto’s 51 Division in the evening with an Internet signal tethered from a print media reporter’s iPhone.

Let me leave you with the Press Conference as it happened and the accompanying CCTV video of a man and a vehicle.

Editor’s Note: The officer in the following videos is Superintendent Mark Payne of the West Midlands Police. He has keynoted at The SMILE Conference and has written several articles on this blog.

Mike Downes – Teacher, Broadcaster, Google+ Hangout Specialist
After spending fifteen years as a school teacher, Mike moved to local media by starting whatsinKenilworth.com in April 2010. After getting noticed by mainstream media (by blogging about Library closures and local Policing), Google+ opened in June 2011 allowing a whole new experience. Mike quickly saw Hangouts as a realtime video tool that connected people. Anoek Eckhardt, Communications and Public Affairs Manager at Google said: “Mike is a great ambassador for Google+. His interaction with thousands of people from across the world to share knowledge, advice and learn together highlights the collaborative power of Google+.

Who’s SMILE’n Now?

The fourth SMILE Conference begins Sept 28th in Dallas, Texas. Chief David O. Brown and the men and women of the Dallas PD will be our hosts as we delve into issues involving flash mobs, social activism, the changing role between law enforcement and the media.

The regular rate is now in effect but it’s easy to snag a discount as a guest of the Dallas PD, our Gold sponsor Cassidian Communications, or other sponsors/partners: Dallas Dodge, Hunt Consolidated, Nixle, LexisNexis, PoliceOne.com or LawOfficer.com.

Featured presentations include:

  • “Tweeting from the Frontline: Social Media and Public Order” by Superintendent Mark Payne of West Midlands, UK
  • “Social Media for Homicide Investigations” by Detective Frank Skubic and Constable Scott Mills of The Toronto Police Service
  • “‘See Something, Say Something™’ Campaigns and the Ethical Issues of Mass Surveillance in Law Enforcement and National Security” by Professor Kristene Unworth of Drexel University
  • “Social Media: Public Safety, Censorship and Dissent | Analysis of Tools and Trends in the Control of Social Media Dominance” by Peter Berghammer, Senior Strategist at Public Communications Worldwide
  • “Expect the Unexpected – Social Media During the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot” by Anne Longley, PIO at Vancouver Police
  • “Intercepted: Social Media Monitoring for Flash Mobs and Mega Parties” by David Gerulski, VP at Digital Stakeout
  • “Strategic Communications: Adapting New Media to Reach the News Media” by Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

The conference will also feature a panel discussion: “Interference or Assistance: Media, Social Citizens and the Speed of Information” which will address citizen activists, media snafus, trolls and how law enforcement can best deal with them.

Here’s a look at the agencies and organizations who will be represented at The SMILE Conference in Dallas.

  • Arlington (TX) Police Department
  • Auburn Hills (MI) Police Department
  • Carrollton (TX) Police Department
  • Cassidian Communications
  • Corpus Christ (TX) Police Department
  • CyberWOrx, 808, LLC
  • Dallas (TX) Police Department
  • Drexel Universisty
  • Encryptics
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Ferndale (TX) Police Department
  • Hunt Consolidated, Inc.
  • Information Sharing Environment
  • Killeen (TX) Police Department
  • Lexis Nexis
  • Los Angeles (CA) Sheriff’s Department
  • McKinney (TX) Police Department
  • Minnesota Department of Public Safety
  • New York Police Department
  • Nixle
  • Orange County (FL) Sheriff’s Office
  • Public Communications Worldwide
  • Richland Hills (TX) Police Department
  • Richardson (TX) Police Department
  • Richmond (TX) Police Department
  • Roanoke Police Department
  • Rocky Mountain Information Network
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police (CA)
  • San Angelo (TX) Police Department
  • San Antonio Police Officer’s Association
  • Sobey’s (ON) Inc.
  • Spokane County (WA) Sheriff’s Department
  • Spokane (WA) Police Department
  • York Regional Police (CA)
  • Texas Auto Burglary & Theft Prevention Authority
  • Toronto Police Service (CA)
  • Trophy Club (TX) Police Department
  • Turkish National Police
  • University Park (TX) Police Department
  • Vancouver Police (CA)
  • West Midlands Police (UK)
  • West Texas A & M University


We hope you can join us at The SMILE Conference. If not, watch hashtag #SMILEcon. Additionally, we expect to stream some of the presentations.

Social Media, Police and Riots

I decided to wait for a little while before writing a post to discuss the use of social media during the recent riots that took place across England. Over a period of two weeks we have seen a move away from the initial knee jerk calls for social media to be turned off during disorder to a much more sensible position, of the industry working with the authorities to start to understand the social media world better from both sides.

Over this period, I have seen the Police attacked for their lack of knowledge of and use of social media. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know that I have been a fierce advocate of police use of social media for many years. I have used social media effectively during disturbances before, and posted about it in April 2010. There has been a group of early adopter forces and individual officers who have been trying to enhance the understanding and use of social media amongst UK policing over the past three years.

Those calling for social media to be turned off seem to me to have completely missed the point. I was on the streets of Wolverhampton during the riots that took place here. I saw first hand the use of mobile handsets, where offenders were clearly consulting their screens and then issuing instructions to others. I have no doubt at all that social media played a part in the organisation of riots in parts of the country. This does not however mean that we should be calling for it to be turned off. It does mean that we need to understand how it works, and get better at using it.

The organisation of protests and disorder has evolved significantly in recent years. It was not very long ago that to organise a protest, you needed a group of like minded people in a room together, agreeing on a theme for the protest, making placards and flyers, and spreading the message via posters and word of mouth. These days, protests can be arranged without any of the protesters even having to be in the same country as each other. Locations can be announced at the very last second. Police forces have not kept up with this change, and we have sometimes given the impression that we are being outwitted and out-manoeuvred at every turn, thwarted by technology.

When protests were being organised in student union bars, our answer was not to try and close down every bar and pub where the meetings might happen. Instead we chose to overtly approach these meetings and speak to the organisers to help us plan. Where co-operation was not forthcoming, we used covert tactics to gain a better understanding. In my view we should be taking exactly the same approach to social media. Rather than risk alienating millions of social media users by trying to turn it off (which I’m not sure is even possible) surely the way to address social media is to better understand it, and look at ways to use it to our benefit.

During the disorder in Wolverhampton, I used Twitter throughout, to update communities in Wolverhampton with developments, and crucially to prevent the spread of misinformation and rumour. One thing that we have seen over and over again during emergency situations is that where there is no information coming from the authorities, the gap will be plugged by speculation. InWolverhamptonwe have worked hard to build a network of local social media users, so that there was a network in place to get our messages out. (For those who want more information on this, this blog sets out the story of how we used social media during the riots.)

I cannot overstate the positive feedback I have had following my use of social media during the riots. I have had hundreds of messages of support and thanks from people who followed me to get an accurate picture of what went on. The very clear message is that people were reassured by following my feed, and believed it rather than all of the rumours that were flying about on the day.Wolverhampton local authority have told me that they were following my feed and then broadcasting updates from it. Almost every tweet I put out updating the situation was retweeted by 100+ people (Twitter seems to stop counting at 100!) National TV channels were running banner headlines which were straight lifts from my tweets. I gained 5000 extra followers in the 24 hours after the riots started which gives you some idea of the amount of people who wanted to be kept up to date.

I don’t think that there is now any question about whether or not police should use social media. Forces cannot just bury their head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. UK policing must become better, and integrate modern communications into their day to day operations.

As somebody who has been using social media since the early days, the most important things that I have learnt are;

1) Use Social Media – this might sound blindingly obvious, but we must adopt much wider use of social media in UK policing, if we are to become adept at using it. It appears to me that some areas have started to think about social media the day before they start using it at an event. This doesn’t work, firstly because as a result they don’t know what they are doing, and secondly, they have no follower base, and so they are talking to themselves. If you use social media on a day to day basis, people start to trust your voice, and they are much more likely to turn to you for information in a crisis.

2) Be brave
– you will make mistakes when you use social media, and once they are out there you can’t retract them easily. I think police forces need to be relaxed about this, the benefits of using social media to talk to people far outweigh the potential pitfalls. When I have made mistakes, people have commented that it just makes the police appear human, nobody expects us to be perfect all the time, but they do like to be able to talk to us.

3) Reach out to current users – one of the benefits of social media is that there are already lots of networks out there just waiting to talk to us. I have spent some time since I arrived in Wolverhampton speaking to the influential social media groups here. On the day of the riots, WV11, which is a fantastic hyperlocal site were carrying all of my messages, allowing people to access my information from a local site they like and trust.

4) Be an individual – There are some great examples of corporate use of social media in policing. West Midlands Police and Greater Manchester Police have both got huge follower numbers, and are excellent tools for broadcasting messages. Both forces during the riots monitored their twitter feeds and answered questions they were asked, taking a step away from the one way traffic that has been the hallmark of Police twitter use. My view is that this is very important, but that alongside the corporate presence, forces ought to encourage individual officers to engage through social media. This allows local people to follow a local cop, asking them questions and talking to them about issues on their doorstep. In effect this adds another dimension to the concept of a local officer.

I am encouraged by the early signs. There is now a platform for the industry to work with the police to help us understand each others needs better. There is interest from the Home Office about how police use social media, we may be seeing a new dawn in police use of social media. Fingers crossed!

Mark Payne

Mark Payne is a Superintendent with the West Midlands Police. He is based at Wolverhampton, responsible for managing response to crime and operations in the city. Superintendent Payne will deliver a keynote address at the upcoming SMILE Conference in Dallas.

How bloggers and police countered riot rumours in Wolverhampton

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote about the riots a few days ago – where I tried to highlight some of the good things to come from the use of social media at the time. One of the examples I cited was Superintendent Mark Payne‘s tweeting to counter the wildly inaccurate rumours about what was happening in Wolverhampton. As commenters on the post pointed out (including Mel Potter of Wolverhampton City Council), the WV11 blog (which, as it happens, we’d highlighted in a report commissioned by Wolverhampton City Council and West Midlands Police as a great example of civic use of social media) had been using its Facebook page to also battle against the misinformation. There have been calls from some politicians and a few police to suspend Twitter and Facebook during similar events in the future, in the belief that this would stop rumours that end up wasting police time from quickly spreading. So I’m hoping this is a timely piece – even if it is a very long one!!! Monday 8th of August, 2011 Following riots over the weekend in London, there were reports of trouble spreading to other cities across England on Monday including nearby Birmingham. In Wolverhampton, at this time Mark Payne said that nothing was happening – despite many rumours to the contrary. If you look at his Twitter stream from that day, you can see what he did to counter these rumours. He took time to carefully answer questions and clear up some of the confusion, as well as reporting from other officers around the West Midlands. At the same time, Steph from the WV11 blog told us that she was seeing similar rumours circulating on Facebook. That evening, she and partner James started to update their Facebook page to set people straight:- Tuesday 9th of August, 2011 On Tuesday morning, Mark tweeted that there was some minor damage to shops in Wolves overnight, but this was nothing in comparison to the problems elsewhere. At middday, he tweeted: “Huge amount of resources available to quell any trouble in Wolverhampton and the West Mids. Hope common sense prevails.” Later that day, Mark was on the ground when trouble did flare up: “I was in amongst the rioters five minutes before it kicked off,” he told me. “And I was able to use twitter to tell people what was actually happening – and what wasn’t.” Mark said, too, that he knew when and why there would be trouble. “I know a lot of the criminals [in Wolverhampton] and I saw people in amongst that crowd who were criminals. It was clear that was where the disorder was coming from,” he said. “It became really hostile and really volatile, really quickly.” Because Mark’s updates were coming from a verifiable, official source they proved helpful to other people in Wolverhampton trying to make sense of what was going on. Steph Jennings of the WV11 blog said: “When we set up WV11 we made a decision that we’d only ever report things if we knew were fact, so getting updates from Mark and other police officers was really valuable.” Steph and James relayed Mark’s updates regularly to their Facebook page and blog – pouring cold water on myths that there had disturbances at the Bentley Bridge shopping centre in Wednesfield (which, by the way, is WV11). The work they did appears to have had an invaluable effect. “After a while, people were coming onto the Facebook page and correcting what other people were saying [when they were rumours]. People were saying things like: ‘I think you should just listen to what the guys running the site are saying.'” Of course, Mark’s tweets weren’t just being followed by the WV11 blog – but by more traditional news sources, too. At one point, Mark says, the content of an update found its way on to Sky News – perhaps more proof if it was needed of the value and timeliness of the information he was providing. Wednesday 10th of August, 2011 On the day following the trouble, both Mark and WV11 were quick to report on the aftermath – both the damage to shops and the efforts to clean up the centre. Mark also made sure people knew about what the police had done to track down the troublemakers. WV11 posted photographs in the afternoon – showing how people were out on the streets tidying up. They took care, Steph said, to not just capture shops that were damaged, but those that were not. “We took the photos to help to stop the rumours,” Steph said. “That’s one thing about WV11. It’s always been about saying: ‘It’s not all bad, despite what some people think.'” The ill-founded rumours on Twitter and Facebook continued on the Wednesday, but claims there’d be more trouble never materialised. Mark even cracked a joke about it, as you can see below… What’s happened since Both WV11, Mark and others at West Midlands Police continued their work that night and for the next few days. Mark, who has emphasised time and again the really hard work officers on the ground did during the disorder, evidently feels that Twitter had a positive impact as well. But he points out that it takes time to build your authority in social media – and other constabularies won’t get instant results. “You can’t just pop up from the ground and expect people to trust what you say, because for them there is no point of reference,” he said. “It’s because I’ve used [Twitter] for three or four years and people know who I am and they’ve seen me tweet from policing events before.” Mark is now followed by more than 7,000 people on Twitter – greater in number than some police forces enjoy. He told me it is a ‘vital tool for modern policing’. “Given the level of interest you try and try to use this well. Wherever I go I find that people love the police. This is an absolutely open goal.” Update: You can now read Mark’s thoughts about all of this on his blog here. The WV11 blog has also enjoyed a huge surge in interest as a result of its work during the riots. Steph said: “We want to capitalise on it while we can. Of course we know we can’t hope to sustain the levels we’ve seen but it’s an opportunity to start to engage with more people.” The blog has been talking to the police about a regular blog post from a police officer being published on the site – and Steph and James have already provided a live blog from a PACT meeting. So what does all this mean? Steph and James love where they live – that’s why they do what they do. So – quite evidently – does Mark. It’s natural that they should work together, indeed it’s a principle enshrined in the way this country has always been policed. Using social media can evidently help these kinds of relationships to blossom quickly and at times without any (or very much) formal management. Of course, these same advantages can be used for bad – but the vast majority of people are more like Steph, James and Mark than they are like the looters – as a few minutes spent looking at the WV11 Facebook Page will prove. Both the guys from WV11 and Mark Payne agree that it’s important for the police and government to make better use of social networking tools. I hope their experiences will convince a few more people to take the plunge.

You can read another version of this piece over at the Public-i blog here.

Andrew is the online communities manager for Public-i, helping public organisations, including police forces, with social media and community management. For more than eight years before that he was a journalist – in London and then in Dubai. More recently he has worked with Podnosh.com back in the UK, and studied online journalism at Birmingham City University. You can read more about Andrew’s work over at Public-i’s blog.

Post Riot Thoughts…

It is now two weeks since the riots. On the day that significant disorder broke out in Wolverhampton, I was out on the ground, witnessing at first hand the damage being caused, the violence being used towards officers and the looting of the shops that were deliberately targeted for the goods that were on display. We were able to bring the situation under control due to some heroic actions from our officers, relatively quickly, and with thankfully little injury to the public or police. As is always the way in such events, there were moments of extreme frustration, as we had to move officers to protect and contain locations, that we couldn’t protect everything, and extreme satisfaction, as we started to lock the offenders up and force the rioters out of the city.

Throughout the course of the day I witnessed some acts of real bravery from officers. As always I was very proud to be part of the Police force that stood in front on the offenders, took the missiles off them, stopped them inflicting the type of damage that they clearly had in mind, and then set about locking them up.

At one stage I was with a group of Special Constables and PCSOs, they were stood in a line in front of the new glass bus station in Wolverhampton, with the rioters coming towards them. They are not public order trained, but they wanted to be out, protecting the community they work in. We replaced them with trained officers in protective kit as soon as we could, but they stood, without question, in the line of fire whilst we did it.

Throughout the day I was using social media and Twitter in particular to update the people of Wolverhampton about what was going on. That was in fact what this blog was going to be about but I will cover that in a later post. Suffice to say that twitter and the social media users of Wolverhampton were invaluable throughout. Rumours were quashed, facts were distributed, and people slept better once they were reassured that it was under control.

The day after the riots, the people of Wolverhampton turned out to clean their own city centre up. They were brilliant and the pride they showed in the area put the rioters to shame. I went out and spoke to the staff in the shops that had been damaged and members of the public. The overwhelming message was that they were determined to press on and not be beaten by the criminals involved in the disorder. Wolverhampton is full of great people, and we saw the best of them the day after we had seen the worst.

In the time since the disorder, it is fair to say that we have been overwhelmed by the messages of support we have had from the public. We have had cards, cakes and chocolate delivered to the police station. I have had countless officers relaying stories to me of being stopped while they are on patrol and thanked by people. We are very grateful for the support we have received from ordinary people; genuine thanks for that.

The investigation has been in full flow since the disorder, and we have seen large numbers arrested and prosecuted. I am pleased that we have been able to do this quickly, as it sends a clear message to those involved; if you are involved in this type of offence, we will come for you, and won’t stop until we have you.

Mark Payne

Mark Payne is a Superintendent with the West Midlands Police. He is based at Wolverhampton, responsible for managing response to crime and operations in the city.

Taking Public Safety to the Street with Twitcam

Simon Shilton @spshilton and Kerry Blakeman @kerryblakeman, March 22, 2011 Twitcam Broadcast

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

DCC Gordon Scobbie

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.

From Hard Times to Hyperlocal

It will not have escaped your attention that the country is experiencing some financial turmoil at present. The news in the last 24 hours has been dominated by a claim that 10,000 police officers will be lost over the coming year. I have no idea if these numbers are true (I’m not sure anybody knows yet), but it is safe to say that in years to come there will be less police officers, less fire officers, less local authority employees , in fact less of lots of people employed to look after us.

I claim no insider knowledge here, I have a good idea what is going on within policing, but a combination of common sense, and watching the news leads me to anticipate a reduction in these posts. Essentially for any organisation, people are the most expensive resource, and therefore any significant reduction in funds is likley to see less people on the ground. We are all trying to make sure that we preserve as many frontline staff as possible, but we will need to explore new ways of delivering our service in these hard times.

One of the difficulties facing policing is that we are often seen as the service of last resort. You will have heard the 999 tapes where people ring us up because they have lost their house keys or can’t find their cat. All services are going to have to take a long, hard look at what they have the capacity to deal with.

I can remember as a young Sergeant volunteering to go to a job where a group of kids had reported seeing a snake. Overcome by a feeling of gallantry, I decided to go and save the kids from what I was sure would be a small grass snake. On my arrival, the snake was about 7 feet long, bright yellow, and not at all intimidated by me and my extendable metal baton. I ended up having to phone Dudley Zoo, and a man (who I later found out was Mark O’Shea, a famous reptile wrestler from TV) turned up, muttering something about it not being dangerous. He duly dispatched the snake into a bag and the world was safe again.

This illustrates my point, whose job is it to deal with escaped snakes? Who says that police have to deal with lost property or take in stray dogs? I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but we are going to have to find ways of helping people to help themselves in some areas where they would previously have rung us.

This is where we come on to hyperlocal sites. My view is simple, all public services ought to be reading, and engaging with hyperlocal sites in areas that they serve. They are an incredibly important method of talking to our communities and finding out what their priorites are, what they are worried about, what they want us to do, and what they are happy for us not to do on their behalf. They already exist, and they are just waiting for us to engage with them.

I would go a step further and say that public bodies ought to be actively encouraging communities to set up hyperlocal sites. There are some fantastic examples of communities making a real difference to their local environment through this medium. Will Perrin from talk about local is well known for his work in this area. He talks about a community who were fed up of dog mess being left on the pavements outside their houses. They came up with the ingenious idea of making little flags branded with the name of their local authority. They then planted these flags in every dog ‘deposit’ they could find, took a picture, and posted it online! Needless to say, it did not take long for the local authority to get it’s act together and clean the streets on a much more regular basis.

When a child loses her cat, they would have a much better chance of finding it if a picture of Tiddles was posted on a hyperlocal site covering their postcode than they would have from asking a police officer to find it. The same is true of a whole host of other issues that communities can actually resolve for themselves, without going to their local public bodies. The local bodies responsible for that area have a new way of engaging with, and having conversations their communities.

Once these sites are in existence, we can then talk to them, help them, and of course take flak from them when we aren’t getting it right. If you click here it will take you through to a simple tool which enables you to search for a hyperlocal site in your area. Any neighbourhood police team, housing association, parent/teachers association or any one of the other public bodies working in an area with a hyperlocal site should be talking to them. If there isn’t one on your area, try and work with the community to set one up, there are loads of people out there happy to help and advise.

I do not pretent that these sites are the solution to all of our problems, or that there will not be really difficult decisions to make moving forwards. Nontheless when we make decisions about local services, we ought to do so from a position where we have listened to local people and allowed them to influence us.

As a Superintendent in Wolverhampton, I will be regularly reading the excellent WV11 and hopefully making the odd contribution. I would urge all of my police colleagues to find their local sites, read them, and engage with them.

As ever, I value your thoughts…

Policing: Further Adventures on Twitter

Over the past 24 hours, the Local Policing Unit from Birmingham South have been tweeting live incidents and their officers’ responses to them. Armed only with a hashtag (#bsp24) and a new twitter account, they have ventured out into the world of social media. Judging by the excellent feedback they have received, I am sure they will be extremely pleased with the results.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to the Commander from Birmingham South, Phil Kay, and discussed the idea with him. He is really forward thinking and had already set the ball rolling with his communications team. At that point they had around 70 people following them on Twitter. By the end of the 24 hour output they had well over 1000.

I have blogged before about the need for police forces to engage more pro-actively in the area of social media, and the example above really does illustrate the point. The communities of South Birmingham clearly want to engage with and talk to the Police. The Commander and his staff now have the ability to communicate with 1000 more people than they had at this point two weeks ago, and perhaps more importantly (and this is the key strength of social media), the community has a way to talk back.

Throughout my years in the Police, we have always struggled to get some communities to engage with us. We labelled those communities as ‘hard to reach.’ It turns out that they were not that hard to reach, we were just reaching in the wrong places. Social media platforms provide us with an absolutely fantastic opportunity to have conversations with people, to recognise their problems and to tell them what we are doing about them.

In the 18 months or so since I first blogged about this issue, the situation in UK policing has improved significantly, there are now some fantastic examples of officers using social media in new and innovative ways. However there are still large areas where there is no social media presence, where officers are actively prevented from engaging by force policies which have simply not caught up with the technological advances of the last decade.

There are now hundreds of officers up and down the country using social media. To my knowledge no riots have been triggered, no officers have been sacked, we have not had to spend huge amounts of money and there have been no breaches of the official secrets act. What we have had is lots of conversations with the people we police and forged some really positive relationships.

To those police areas not currently engaged, I ask the same question as I did in my first blog; Why are you waiting?