Archive for the 'Superintendent' Category

Digital Futures…

I attended a conference today with some senior police leaders to discuss how we take police use of social media forwards. Following on from the riots, there is a real impetus behind this work, and the genie is now well and truly out of the bottle. It was really refreshing to see a room full of senior officers with an understanding of the key issues and a desire to improve the current situation.

There is an emerging consensus of the big business areas where we need to integrate social media into our traditional policing response, they are;

  • Engagement
  • Intelligence
  • Investigation

Engagement seems relatively obvious, police officers should be taking every opportunity, and using every medium to talk to our communities, listen to them, and allow the public to influence how we deploy our resources. In this regard, social media seems to be an open goal. I am followed on twitter by around 7700 people, many of them from Wolverhampton, and as the Superintendent for the City, this gives me an opportunity to talk to people every day, in a way that would not be possible if I didn’t use social media. The opportunities are endless, and in 2012 we ought to be using social media routinely to talk to people, there are no excuses not to.

Intelligence gained from social media presents some new challenges to us in terms of the way we have traditionally worked, but the opportunities outweigh these many times over. In the aftermath of the riots, people were tripping over themselves to tell the police who was responsible, and we had to find ways of getting the information into our systems. We need to protect people who give us information, and we need to able to verify whether or not the information is true. Our traditional model for turning information into intelligence, the National Intelligence Model, simply does not work quickly enough to process information in the age of instant media. This is not insurmountable but, it does mean that that we are having to think about things differently.

Investigation in the digital age is changing rapidly. When you are investigating serious crimes, speed is of the essence. We often refer to the golden hour, and the evidence gathered in the immediate aftermath is often crucial to solving a crime. These days, the golden hour often happens digitally. People take photos and videos on mobile devices, provide commentary on the scene and start to speculate on motives and potential offenders online. Police need to be capturing all of this information, at the same time as containing the physical crime scene. again, there are risks, but we simply have no option than to adapt our processes and educate our investigators.

This is of course not a complete list of all of the opportunities and threats that exist in the digital world for policing, but it is a good start. The ACPO business leads for the areas listed above were all at the meeting today and there is clear commitment from them to make the necessary progress.  

I am really optomistic for UK policing and pleased that the hard work of some of the early adopters of social media is starting to bear fruit. Watch this space…….

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 inWolverhamptonspeaking 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!

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, that we couldn’t protect everything as we had to move officers to protect and contain locations. There were also moments of 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.

Making progress….

In November 2009 I posted about Police using Social media, or rather not using social media.  At the time I wrote it you were more likely to see Gordon Brown performing a stand up comedy routine than you were to see a police officer on twitter.

Since that time, we have made some good progress. There are many more forces now engaged and actively participating, and lights seem to be coming on all over the place. I am regularly e-mailed by officers asking for advice on Social Media use, and encourage as many as I can to come on board. Since taking up my new job at Wolverhampton I am encouraging my officers to get involved and take the social media plunge.

I wrote the post to encourage officers to use social media to talk to and engage with the public in a different way.  We will of course always make most of our contact face to face, but we cannot afford to ignore the booming social media landscape. Engaging with the public remains an excellent reason to use social media, but it is clear now that we need to be engaging for other reasons.

At protests recently, social media has been used to orchestrate and co-ordinate activity to good effect. Police have been caught on the back foot and are a long way behind the protesters. It is my view that until more police officers and senior leaders start to use the medium, we will not even begin to close the gap. You can’t expect to just turn up on the day and start successfully tweeting. Firstly nobody will be following you,  so you will be merrily tweeting to yourself.  Second, although it is not a difficult to use the sites, it is good to practice before you start.

Before I tweeted from the EDL protest last year, I set about speaking to people in Dudley in the weeks leading up to the event. When I tweeted on the day, I had a ready made group of local people who forwarded on my tweets, and who were able to help me reach more people.

I still encounter some limited abuse and negativity on Twitter, but the vast majority are really welcoming. On a number of occasions, people have spoken to me about real crimes I have been able to help them with, people regularly ask me for advice, which I happily give.  I have been able to diffuse malicious community rumours, and offer clarity where there is confusion.

The one thing I regularly find myself having to deal with is the assertation that because I use twitter regularly, I am somehow neglecting my job, and spending all day looking at a computer screen. To any doubters out there let me offer some clarity;

I am a Superintendent in the Police. The budget for my area is around 40 million pounds. There are around 800 Police officers and staff working with me at Wolverhampton, looking to me for decisions and leadership. Last year I led and solved four murders….I am therefore actually capable of doing more than one thing at a time!

I am really encouraged by the progress we are making. I commend to anybody about to start tweeting PCSO Lee Haynes and PC Richard Stanley as excellent examples. 

If you are a police officer or PCSO reading this, delay no longer. People want to talk to you, so make a start. If you are a member of the public frustrated at not being able to tweet your local officer, send an e-mail to your local Inspector asking them to get an officer tweeting. Refer them to me if they need any advice.

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think…

The Invisible Police

You do not have to look very far at present to find a small group of people having a regular knock at the Police. At the top of the list of issues that they frequently repeat is the lack of visibility from Police officers. The issue is then picked up and repeated by the media, in places like Twitter and quickly becomes accepted as fact. Next year we will have the election campaigns running for the new Police and Crime Commissioners. I predict that all of the candidates will be telling the public that they will get tough with Police leaders, and force officers out of their stations into their communities.

I will not go into the way that police visibility is measured here, but I do want to illustrate the competing demands on police resources and why some officers are not visible to the public.

Firstly let me say that there is nobody prouder than me to wear a police uniform. I recognise and value the fantastic work carried out by neighbourhood teams and response officers up and down the country. I have carried out both of these roles fairly recently, and can testify to the way officers work tirelessly, out of the station, getting in the faces of criminals, and keeping people safe. Nontheless, we ignore the work of the invisible police at our peril.

Four years ago I was a Detective Inspector working in Wolverhampton. I received notice that a sex offender was about to be released onto my area from prison on license. The man was a predatory paedophile, who had offended against children in the past. The prison assessment was that he was highly likely to do so again.

As you would perhaps expect we put a comprehensive plan in place to deal with him. He was visited by uniform officers and probation officers and spoken to. He assured all parties that he was a reformed character and that was would abide by the terms of his license. There were very strict conditions in terms of where he could or could not go. We also used a lot of covert  officers and techniques so that we could gain a better understanding of what he was doing.

Four weeks in, the man had been good to his word, only going where he was supposed to, and complying with his license. At this stage we were having to take difficult decisions. This operation was very expensive, the resources we were using were precious, and there were a whole host of competing demands. We take these types of difficult decisions on a regular basis, but it doesn’t make them any easier. We decided to run the operation for another week.

The man was arrested in week five of the operation. He was arrested in Coventry, miles away from where he was supposed to be. When my officers grabbed hold of him, he was accompanied by two little girls, and had just come out of  a sweet shop with them. When officers spoke to the girls they told us that they were en-route with the man to a local park.

Although these types of incidents are rare, I would place a hefty bet that this type of scenario is playing out somewhere in the country as we speak. During the operation I have just described, there was no public reassurance, because we obviously didn’t tell anybody. The operation didn’t count towards any kind of performance figures, and it was very expensive. Nobody saw the officers involved in this investigation, and they would clearly not have featured in any count of police visibility. No votes would have been won by any Police & Crime Commissioner candidate because they wouldn’t have known about the job.

Given the very real financial situation that Policing finds itself in, we will have to continue to make real decisions, based on real threat and risk, influenced by whole range of factors, one of which is visibility. Should we continue to invest our precious resources in the type of invisible policing that I have described above?

Perhaps the first people we should ask are the parents of those two little girls.



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