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…….


7 Responses to “Digital Futures…”

  1. 1 JuliaM January 20, 2012 at 8:25 am

    “…in 2012 we ought to be using social media routinely to talk to people, there are no excuses not to.”

    You might have more luck with that if your organisation didn’t immediately pounce on anyone inadvertently letting slip a politically sensitive bit of truth, such as the staffing levels in some areas .

    • 2 suptmarkpayne January 20, 2012 at 8:47 am

      Julia, I am aware of the case you are talking about, but can’t comment as this is a live enquiry. Social media has many advantages, but before it was invented officers were held to account and disciplined if they made inappropriate comments. Police use of social media is not to blame if officers are disciplined for comments they make on there, the debate should be about whether police regulations governing what officers are allowed to say about the work environment are correct.

  2. 3 Nick Keane January 20, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I agree with you, Mark, I thought yesterday’s event was a good marker on the progress that UK policing is making in adopting to the changes that digital and social technology are bringing.

    Digital and social media present challenges for all hierarchical organizations and the police service, and others, need to consider how this impacts on its business including it’s structures, staff and working culture.

    For me the exercise that we ran with the five groups (including the unconference element)looking at the various themes presents interesting options for moving forward and it is something we would hope to run again.

    Finally, I agree that credit should be given to the many early adopters (yourself included) who’s work has helped the police service move forward to meet these challenges. Long may this continue.

  3. 5 mark b January 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Good blog. The police need to wake up to the idea that social media will be common place in everything we do. I currently run a cscd course which deals with the intelligence and investigations strands that the blogger alludes to. We just need more impetus and training IMHO.

  4. 6 Thecustodysgt January 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I hope to see things moving forward which can only be of benefit all police SM users either force supported or anonymous. Both have a place in this new avenue of communication.

    Education of those within forces who fear their officers using SM is paramount. Trust is a key factor and all officers MUST understand the implications of what they post. The guidelines on the blog last year by Chief Constable Stuart Hyde are clear and practical.

    We are often percieved as distant from the public. Perhaps aloof and unwilling to engage. This level of communication allows the public to see that officers are in fact human and facing the same life issues, pressures, worries and concerns as everyone else.

  5. 7 Your team January 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    A great blog and I agree social media poses a great opportunity for structured organisations and takes security intelligence to the next level.. This is exactly the way we’re already supporting clients with their social media environmental scanning. For the police (as an ex Sgt) the big area for intelligence gathering is the credibility of the source (encapsulating NIM and 5x5x5). There are ways we run these checks when gathering intelligence from social media and would be delighted to chat it through to help you if you wish 01244 537304. Thanks Henry

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