Police, Twitter, and riots

Really pleased to be able to publish this post from Cisco’s Jeremy Crump on the use of Twitter by the police, with specific reference to the recent disturbances in London, Birmingham and other cities.

The widespread use of social media has been a significant feature of the riots in England over the last week. Looters used BBM to organise and swarm. In response, outraged citizens used Facebook  and Twitter to organise clearing up local streets. The police are making extensive use of social media. They have used it for keeping people updated about what has been happening, and very importantly for dispelling rumours when things haven’t been happening. They’ve used Flickr to crowd source collecting photographic evidence, and for getting citizens to help in identifying offenders. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary noted in their report on public order policing earlier this year that the police were lagging behind demonstrators in their use of social media. The service has had to learn fast.

What we have seen in the last week shows some real innovation, building on the  work of @nickkeane of the NPIA and innovators across the police service over the last three years. There will be extensive analysis of what worked and what didn’t over the coming months. An immediate pointer to the extent to which social media are becoming an essential aspect of policing is the growth of the number of people following police force twitter accounts.

Almost all of the 43 local forces in England and Wales have central twitter accounts, which are run by force comms departments and are mostly used for giving out public information notices, seeking information about incidents or reporting successes. Since June, the total number of followers of these sites has increased 121,000 to 347,000. Unsurprisingly, the forces with the biggest growth include those where there was the most unrest – Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Derbyshire all show increases in the number of followers in this period of over 200%. So do Cambridgeshire, West Mercia, South Yorkshire and Hampshire. The biggest growth has been in the Met, which was relatively late in committing itself to the use of twitter. @metpoliceuk now has over 34,000 followers, against 2,900 in June. Of course, not all the 346,000 followers now following police force accounts in England and Wales are unique individuals – there is overlap between these groups. But the scale of the growth is striking. The experience of Greater Manchester Police from their GMP24 exercise last year suggests that these high numbers of followers will persist. A significant group of followers are media organisations and the publication of information through the site is a means for the police to feed their messages into a debate which goes wider than their immediate followers on Twitter.

There has been more modest growth in the number of followers of the accounts managed by neighbourhood and borough policing teams.  402 such accounts which were already set up in June and still used in august have grown from 108,000 to 166,000 followers – an increase of 54%. Some of them, such as @brumpolice and @suptpaynewmp have gained several thousand new followers.

There is more work to do in understanding how the police have used these sites, what the impact has been and what new and effective practices have emerged. Much will be changed by the events of the last week, including the way the police work with local citizens to share information and maintain confidence. We can expect the police service to build on what it has learned about the potential of social media for closer engagement with the public.

Note on the data

 The number of followers for 41 force accounts and 402 local policing accounts were downloaded on 22 June 2011 and 11 August 2011 using NodeXL, which is a free extension to Excel. http://nodexl.codeplex.com/. The source of the account names are the lists @nickkeane/ukcops-who-tweet and @nickkeane/uk-police-force-twitters. The local police list excludes specialist units, ACPO officers’ accounts and others which aren’t used primarily as channels for communicating with the local public.

Jeremy Crump is a director at Cisco Systems and was previously Director of Strategy at the NPIA. He will be publishing articles on the police service use of Twitter later this year.

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Bookmarks for January 10th through January 24th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for October 3rd through October 19th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Almost live transparency from Greater Manchester Police


A really interesting experiment is happening in Manchester today, thanks to the local police force.

Greater Manchester Police are, according to their website,

publishing details of every incident that it deals with on Twitter to allow the public to see what officers at one of the largest UK forces face on a daily basis.

This video explains more:

You can follow all the action on the GMP website, where they are aggregating together the outputs from three different Twitter streams, or just get the latest from @gmpolice.

As I said, interesting stuff, and a great use of the scale that social media tools like Twitter offer in terms of quickly publishing a lot of information. Imagine doing something like this through traditional web publishing tools!

It’s also a great example of a public service using transparency proactively and positively. It doesn’t always have to be bad news.

The internet is not another channel

I had a pleasant day last Wednesday at the joint NPIA and ACPO event on ‘Policing 2.0’, at the invitation of Nick Keane.

(A quick word in praise of Nick. I have known him for over 3 years now, and in all that time, he has been quietly plugging away at the NPIA, whispering in ears, promoting ideas, talking with others. When things weren’t quite going his way, he never gave up, or had a tantrum, but quietly got on with things. All that effort is now bearing fruit, and the police should be grateful that they have Nick. Every organisation should have a Nick – in fact, they probably do. Find him, or her, as soon as you can, and treasure them.)

I presented a mid-morning slot titled ‘Whose Police is it, anyway?’ – my attempt at a mildly amusing reference to the recent MyPolice saga, which has now thankfully been resolved in a sensible way.

I won’t go into the details of the farrago – the links above will fill you in – but the one lasting impression I got was that quite a lot of people don’t take the internet, and those that inhabit it, terribly seriously. This is a huge mistake and a massive missed opportunity for those that take this view.

This tends to take two main forms. One is that any digital element of a project is left until the last minute before it is considered, meaning that things are inevitably rushed, and not as thought-through as they could be.

The second form is, as I alluded to in the title of this post, that online is considered as just another channel. The fact is, though, that the internet is not a channel. The internet is not the same as your newsletter. It is not the same as your advertisement. It is not the same as your poster.

The internet is a big, important thing. In my presentation, I drew on Stephen Fry‘s analogy from the Digital Britain summit last year, when he described the internet as a city. A place where people meet socially, where they go to work, where they play games together, create wonderful things, share knowledge, thought and jokes.

Like any city, it’s also a place where bad things happen. But like a city, the answer to that is not to shut the bad places down, or build wire fences around them, but to try and root out the bad people and convince them of the error of their ways.

Therefore, like any place where people are so active, they care about the internet. It matters to them. It isn’t something that should be disregarded as a plaything for geeks, or somewhere that only sad, lonely people use to find friends (it is, of course, both of those things, but not exclusively).

Open source wouldn’t happen without the internet. Wikipedia wouldn’t happen without the internet. MySociety wouldn’t happen without the internet. Data.gov.uk wouldn’t happen without the internet. Guido Fawkes wouldn’t happen without the internet. Of course these things all have their flaws, but the fact that they happen at all, and have the impact they do, is a remarkable testament to the culture of the net, which every individual and every organisation has something to learn from.

Here are my slides – a few won’t make much sense, but they were all trying to make one point or another, some more profane than others.

Policing 2.0: The Citizen and Social Media

While Andrew was so marvelously blogging Government 2010 last Thursday, I was at an event organised by the National Police Improvement Agency, giving a presentation which was an overview of web 2.0 and what it means for public sector services like the Police.

Here are my slides:

Also talking at the event were Will from Talk About Local, Sarah and Lauren from the excellent MyPolice (Sarah wrote a guest post here on DavePress about the project a while ago) and Nick from COI; along with several great representatives from the Policing world who talked about the stuff they are doing in the real world, with blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and even running virtual local meetings with CoverItLive. Inspiring stuff.

Check out all the tweets from the event here.

Massive props to Nick Keane for getting this going. With any first events of a type, the main thing to do is to whip up enthusiasm, and get people talking. Nick achieved that today, and I’m excited about whatever comes next.


This is the first of the series of guest posts here at DavePress, which will be coming each Wednesday for the next few weeks… Many thans to Sarah for taking the time out to write this!

Less than a month ago, a bunch of designers, developers, business brains and creative entrepreneurs who had never met before, came together and worked on Scotland’s first Social Innovation Camp. Sicamp, (for the tweeters out there), is in their own words;

… an experiment in creating social innovations for the digital age. We think the web and related technologies hold huge potential to change some pretty fundamental stuff: how people hold those in positions of power accountable; who they rely on to provide the services they need to live healthy, happy lives; or how they make a difference to something that affects them

And so, under the technical lights of the Caledonian Saltire centre in Glasgow, 6 ideas were investigated, brainstormed, developed and coded in under 48 hours, then pitched to a dragons den style panel. The winners were awarded a start up fund, branding workshops and free development time.

Mypolice was the winner, a back of the envelope idea I had months ago after a friend didn’t have an independent and fair channel to express her feedback to the police. Furthermore, she had suggestions for how her experience could have been improved, but again felt there was nowhere to express this.

So my team at sicamp came up with Mypolice.org. It is a web-based service that fosters constructive, collaborative communication between communities and the police forces that serve them. We offer the public a platform to tell their stories about their experiences with the police and suggest ways for their local police station to improve. We use mapping tools to geographically organise the information, so you can find out what your community is talking and concerned about.

Design can help us in the public services to be more innovative. We need to be conscious that today’s problems are just not going to be addressed by yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s solutions; because the problems that we’re now facing, and the problems that we’re going to go on facing for the next five or ten years, are not going to be solved by the better delivery of more responsive services certainly if we do that in the traditional style. We need responses which are much more joined up, which are much more about influencing behaviour; we need a whole new approach to public policy over the 10 years – Sir Micheal Birchard, Chairman, Design Council

We will be taking an approach to our project which uses various design tools and techniques to help us make informed decisions. We are hoping to work on a regeneration scheme in Glasgow where we will be holding focus groups and interviews with the community and observing their environments, then use this as a case study to approach police stations. We want them to work with us and get involved in some co-design workshops with the public to really get to grips with how mypolice could work best for both sides and move forward our current idea. We want mypolice.org to become a valuable tool for the police and help them to improve and address issues within their policing areas. Through these steps, we also want to come up with other ways in which mypolice can be accessed, so we’re not alienating users who are not digitally engaged.

To be honest though, it really is an uphill struggle. First of all, we’re talking about using ‘social media’ tools that at the moment a majority of police organisations don’t quite understand and aren’t using yet. We’d like to change this and show them what all this web 2.0 malarkey is about; That social media doesn’t just mean youtube or facebook and pictures of teenagers drinking underage but that there are a whole variety of tools out there to help us connect, organise, collaborate, vote etc in more inventive ways than ever before.

It’s going to take a while to do this convincing but we’ve been talking to some interesting people already, including the head of the Scottish Police Federation and members of the Neighbourhood Policing Improvement agency. What we create needs to work with the police, not against, so we’re being very careful that the site doesn’t become a floodgate for insult. We want the feedback to be constructive, including a space for thank you comments which will act as a great morale booster. We want to remain independent from the police, but we don’t want to alienate them so we will be offering mypolice to them as a service they can buy into, similar to how the NHS Patient Opinion model works.

It is an exciting push in the direction of using social media within a public sector organisation. We’re not just using social media because it is the latest hot topic in the government. We’re using the tools to empower citizens to collectively make decisions on how their local area should be policed.
If we can convince the police that our idea can add value to their service, reduce the time they currently spend ‘engaging’ with the public and improve relationships with the communities they serve, all at the same time, we’ll be looking at some pretty big changes and perhaps a step towards giving more power to the people.

New technologies are changing the way we engage communities, deliver our public services, participate in government and campaign for change, are such an institution who are so policy heavy ready for it?

Sarah Drummond is project managing mypolice and is a recent graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. Her expertise lies in design thinking and designing services for both private and public sectors. Sarah has worked as a designer with Skills Development Scotland, leading the design process and project from beginning to end to create an educational online platform ‘My Learning Pod’.   She will be undertaking a Masters at the GSA with SDS this year.  She has also been recognised for her design skills winning most promising GSA Product Design student in 2008 and the first Medici Service Design Medal in 2009.