I am known on occasions to waffle on a bit… I’m going to go around the houses a bit with this but stick with me.
Truth is such a big issue in society and business and your life. Why are we so afraid of it? Why can’t we say “Yes we made a mess of that” or “this took us by suprise and we were unprepared” or “yes darling those trousers do make your bum look big”. Truth is often the hardest thing to say but in reality it is the only way to move on. Is it comfortable. No. Is it easy? No. Is it the best thing to do? Yes.
My Dad is 76 years old. He sits at his computer, sends emails, surfs the net, shops online, interacts on Facebook, uses Office software and publishes the church magazine. Technology does not phase him and he’s willing to get stuck in and have a try. I’m very proud of him.
My Mum is 73 years old. She has no interest in computers whatsoever. She doesn’t send email, she would stand for 5 mins wondering where the computer switched on and can just about manage a basic mobile phone. Technology has no place in her life. She does however make the best cakes ever and she’s a bit of a dab hand at making soft toys. I’m very proud of her.
Two people whom I love dearly that have very different views about technology and social media. The world of Facebook and Twitter can be daunting. It certainly strikes fear and doubt into the minds of many people. The police service across the UK is beginning to emerge into this world. Best of all for cash strapped forces is Twitter is free of charge! Twitter is the best example of where the police are dipping the proverbial toe. It’s very early days as yet but some forces are pioneering the way. They have grasped the concept and given individual officers and departments the opportunity to access Twitter and post comment. Other forces are a lot less so and whilst “sort of” accepting that they will have to go this way eventually they are still stood some way off prodding it gingerly with a long stick fearing it may jump up and bite them.
Some time ago I set up a Twitter account in my name. I’ve had little to no use of it. I’ve amassed an astonishing total of 15 followers who are all friends and known to me. During March this year I stumbled across a Blog about the police written by @ResponsePlod on Twitter. Subsequent surfing led me to think that blogging and tweeting as a police officer could be interesting. I set up my account @TheCustodySgt which can be accessed using the panel on the right. I also set up this blog. I chose to remain anonymous.
Sceptics may look on and say what have you got to hide? Why be anonymous? The police are crown servants and we are a disciplined service. We are subject to rules and regulations that control our conduct both on and off duty. We must never act in a manner likely to bring the office of constable or the police service into disrepute. As a result we have two types of police tweeters. Those who are force supported and those who are anonymous. The official ones are doing a fine job as forces explore in this world. But these officers are subject to scrutiny. They certainly seem to have a degree of flexibility but some seem braver than others. This is to be expected. But overall the bulk of the posts will be somewhat sanitized and toe the party line. An official tweet may say “Attended thieves on. Offenders made off, tracked by dog and found. 3 in custody”. This is great info and any member of the public seeing this will be delighted. An official tweet is unlikely to say “No patrols for thieves on. Offender made good escape. Took crime report. Apologised to victim”.
This sort of behaviour of self promotion is inherent in every aspect of life. When did you fill in an application form and show your weaknesses? When big companies make mistakes they don’t openly admit the truth. They use cleverly worded phrases that divert the real truth and use a “damage control” strategy.
As a police officer I am subject to the same discipline code as any other. I have 20yrs service and I’m not about to compromise myself, my career, my pension (leave it alone please Theresa May) or my force by making inappropriate comments. But as an anonymous tweeter/blogger I can post some bits of information that are perhaps uncomfortable at times… but most definately the truth. Something an official tweeter would find their access removed for. The important point is we both have a place and role in the development of the police in the social media sphere.
One such anonymous blogger/tweeter has recently closed his account and deleted his blogs. @The_Duty_Sgt posted anecdotal blogs about his life and experiences as an officer. I never saw anything contentious or innappropriate. So why has he closed? Because somebody within his force has decided they don’t like it, feel uncomfortable about it and have leant on him. What galls me more than anything else is that there are many published books by current, ex and retired officers. David Copperfield and Tom Ratcliffe are two from the top of my head. Their books are full of anectodal stories, observations and criticism of the police. These are not challenged. The authors are not subject to threats of discipline. What is the difference between the published work and the electronic work? Despite this glaring division @The_Duty_Sgt values his career as do I and has decided that discretion is the greater part of valour. His demise is a sad loss to all.
I am encouraged that so many forces are starting to become involved in social media. Some individual officers and senior officers are on Twitter and posting. Some more than others and the posts seem to become more santized they higher they get. But they are on there so it’s a step in the right direction. A few people in particular worthy of mention are @stuhonline and @SuptPayneWMP. There are also some more front end officers @ResponseSgtWMP @PCDKirkwood and @PCJase733 and @PCStanleyWMP. Anonymous ones worth noting are @InspectorWinter** @ResponsePlod @Spartancop and a spoof account @SirIanBlair
In 44 days since setting up my account I have sent over 1200 tweets and amassed over 300 followers. This goes to show two things.. a) my personal account and private life is very boring b) the public, fellow legal professionals and the media want to see what I have to say from my professional viewpoint. But forces need to understand that Twitter is not a platform for a monologue of posts. It has to be a dialogue… a two way communication. This is put far more eloquently than I here;
Love them or hate them they all have a part to play in taking this forward. It is also reassuring to know that ACPO have a lead for Social Media in Policing led by the Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Gordon Scobbie ( @DCCTayside ). Every officer on a neighbourhood unit knows the problems that come from inappropriate content and messages on Facebook and MSN. They get to deal with it day in day out. It stands to reason that on occasion there will be a disgruntled officer who will post something offensive or inappropriate. The regulations we have are there to deal with that person. As police officers we know these rules and if broken we pay the consequences. I would have no sympathy for an officer acting as such… just as much as I wouldn’t for one arrested for drink driving. The rules are there to deal with offenders. Not to threaten people with.
I see us at the beginning of a long journey. We have taken some good steps in the right direction as a police service nationally. That can only continue. However there will be a few more unneccessary social media fatalities along the way whilst we still have those who fear the truth and fear technology.
The truth is the truth… and it will out in the end. It always does.
** the irony of the final line is tremendous considering what was uncovered with Winter. He was a serial fraudster and not a police officer at all. He now resides courtesy of HMP.