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…

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15 Responses to “From Hard times to Hyperlocal”


  1. 1 james marsland February 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Hi,

    Interesting piece.

    We run a hyperlocal website in cheltenham called leckhamptononline.co.uk. The local police have been very reluctant to get involved with our site and have actually tried to stop us repurposing the local crime reports. They are most interested in abiding with “corporate comm” rules than disseminating useful information. Most of this reaction comes from fear, but it highlights that the public sector needs help to understand the potential of social media for social good, but they also need help with their policies so they feel confident in engaging with hyperlocal websites.

    Jamie

  2. 6 Mike Downes February 7, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    I’m inspired that you are thinking this way about hyperlocals and encouraging all your colleagues to engage. It has never been so easy to be a community. Twitter is helping me enormously…the only group that are still missing are the local force. If you have any influence Warwickshire, please use it. Yes, I have done all I can and know something will happen soon…but when? My inbox is empty – my latest idea is to request a ride along – at least I would be able to blog about it at my hyperlocal.

    • 7 cimarkpayne February 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

      Mike, I know the web manager at Warwickshire, Sasha Taylor. Not sure on their policies on SM, but would be happy to talk to them and share my experiences, which have all been positive!

      • 8 Mike Downes February 7, 2011 at 11:34 pm

        I have the latest from Sasha only a few days ago, it seems a waiting game. My next move is to contact the area Inspector for Warwick District. What frustrates me is the twitter/twitcam group from West Mids @Cov_Police and @kerryblakeman that are doing so well. Thanks for your interest.

  3. 9 ianrobo February 8, 2011 at 12:41 am

    This is very good to read Mark and well done for what you have done and trying to do. The pressures will increase and can only be done if the police are fully in tune with the area they serve.

    I run a hyperlocal blog and will contact the local station ot see if they would do an article occasionally

  4. 10 Sasha Taylor February 8, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Hi Mark

    Great article. This is exactly where the National Police Web managers Group has been trying to take the police service for a number of years.

    Why re-invent the wheel when there are many hyper-local sites out there with an audience of interested people already following. We should be tapping into these communications channels as a matter of course. A colleague, and Social Media Guru, Dave Briggs stated a few years ago: Using the conventional means of communications such as leaflets etc is like a person going to a field where no one is interested and trying to get the message over. Social Media that has an audience is like that person going into a field where there is a microphone and all the people gathered are interested in listening to what is being said. Now which is better in terms of cost and effort?

    Where there are no hyper-local sites local public organisations should be encouraging the community to set one up – supporting it by highlighting it and providing timely information to it. When I launched Safer Neighbourhoods for my force I was asked by members of the community about reusing the information we posted – I helped them out by providing them an RSS feed from their local team so that any new information could be sent to any individual or social media channel / hyper-local site automatically.

    Many of the challenges of supporting the hyper-local sites is not from the local officers, who want every chance to engage with the community to promote good work, appeal for information or provide helpful advice to reduce crime; or the Web Managers who have been pushing the boundaries as much as they can; but from those that are resistant to change.

    Regards
    Sasha

    Sasha Taylor (@sasha_taylor)
    Chair, National Police Web Managers Group (@NPWMG)

    • 11 cimarkpayne February 8, 2011 at 10:51 am

      Sasha,

      Agree with all of this, we must get out of the quite arrogant approach we have adopted in the past; ie we’ll tell the public what we want to ,when we want to, and move towards a position when we are engaging on the public’s terms, using mediums they are comfortable with.

      Keep plugging away!

      Mark

  5. 12 Caroline Rogers February 8, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Coventry police are very good at using the internet to communicate with the public. I told Wainsbody police (part of Coventry) about your article and they were very encouraging – I’ve already started setting up Coventry’s hyperlocal site.

    A Wainsbody police officer said that it’d be really useful to have information available to the public about what to do when things go wrong because the police are often called to deal with situations which should be dealt with by other bodies (as demonstrated in your snake example). Sometimes the police are also called for advice about crimes when it is their job to make arrests. The police officer suggested having a site which gives advice about what to do about birds in chimneys etc for the whole of the West Midlands.

    Thanks for another great article. Looking forward to the next one.

    Best wishes,
    Caroline

  6. 14 Mike Downes February 9, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Caroline,

    If you need any help setting up your hyperlocal, I can help. Please email and maybe we can meet if you wish. I have used Blogger – hyperlocal sites are badly needed in this area. See http://www.openlylocal.com and search your post code. I know your area as lived there for ten years. Mike http://www.whatsinKenilworth.com


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