Right then, it appears we have caused a bit of a stir by saying that we are thinking about having somebody in post to try and expand our use of social media. The interview, given by Assistant Chief Constable Scobbie, has been widely reported as West Midlands Police employing a ‘Cyber Cop’ type person.
The media seem to be under the impression that somebody is going to explode out of an unsuspecting critic’s laptop, cuffs in hand to march the offender off to the station. I can fully understand the concerns people have expressed if that actually was our intention, but as I was the officer who came up with the idea, I can say categorically, that it wasn’t.
People may occasionally doubt the intellectual capacity of police officers, but I can safely say that if we were planning to launch a spy in cyber space, we wouldn’t put out a press release and conduct interviews about it!
The idea is really very simple. Police are often criticised for being difficult to get hold of, or not listening to what local people are saying. We try all kinds of ways to communicate with the public, meetings, newsletters, traditional media, talking to people we meet and anything else we can think of. There is clearly a huge amount of conversation taking place online and, where people are talking about policing or crime issues, we want to be part of the conversation.
Until recently, our officers were prevented from accessing the internet at work. We have recognised that situation is a bit ridiculous in the modern world, and now all our officers have access.
The role that we are thinking about will not be a police officer. It will be somebody who understands the world of social media, and who can help us develop the ideas that we have, and make our officers more accessible to people.
I can say with absolute certainty that this is not about jumping on people who are criticising us. We sometimes get things wrong, even when we are trying to do the right thing. Policing is a hugely complex business, and it is inevitable, that we will upset some people. If this is the case, we want to hear about it, warts and all. At least if we know, we will have opportunity to put it right, or do better next time.
I have been actively engaged in the social media world for a while now, as a police officer. I have been warmly welcomed by most, some have queried what I am doing there, but many people have responded really positively. I firmly believe that if we go ahead and employ somebody to help us engage with people online, it will help us to get closer to people, and it is the right thing to do.
I would welcome your thoughts………