Archive for the 'DCI' 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…….


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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