When mountaineers are asked about why they took on a certain mountain the reply, albeit stereotypical these days, is often; “because it’s there”.
On Friday next week, at the behest of DCC Gordon Scobbie, I will be attending a roundtable discussion at Bramshill along with a small and specially selected group of tweeters from various backgrounds, the Federation and other senior officers. Many of you may wonder why I’m doing such a thing. I’m anonymous after all so why would I blow my cover? I could wax lyrical about this but I believe my friend Constable Chaos encapsulates the reasons, the safety factors and why we both feel it important to go in his blog “Bramshill or bust”.
The prime objective of the discussion is get the ball moving on the topic of online safety for police officers/staff and how support can be offered to them in the social media environment to ensure they stay safe both professionally and personally. This is quite a wide field and I see this meeting as a start… not an end. This will be a long and difficult path and anyone expecting immediate results on Friday evening may find themselves disappointed. A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step and I believe this event is that first step. Discussion on the topic is not new and Chief Constable Stuart Hyde wrote a blog in June 2011 – Police Code of Conduct Approach to Social Media. This shows how the correct application of the Code of Conduct can ensure officers and staff remain safe. I don’t fully agree with it all but what it did do was show that there really is no need for more legislation or regulations to control the use of social media by police officers and staff.
So on to Tim Dowdy. During his “The Frontier Awaits” series one of his talks was entitled “Dare to Climb”. He talks of a visit to Yosemite and how he stands at an observation point and takes in an amazing mountain top view. He then drives down into the valley and sees crowds of people sat at the side of the road with telescopes and binoculars. It transpires they are watching people climbing the cliff face. As this is a church sermon he goes on to illustrate how the church needs more people on the mountain and less people in the valley. As a christian it’s a very powerful piece of preaching.
So what comparison am I trying to draw? Stick with me.
If the cliff face represents social media and the police then the goal is the summit. That is the place where we have nailed it. It works, it’s accepted and everyone in the organisation understands how to use it safely. It becomes second nature.
The climb is not easy but there are some folks who have taken the challenge on and are climbing that mountain. They are climbing it within the bounds of their professional positions and under the scrutiny of their Corporate Communications departments and there are those, like me, who do so with anonymity. Whichever guise we take though we all have one goal. To progress police use of social media to a point where we all understand it better and where we will be supported and encouraged when we get it right and supported and encouraged when we get it wrong.
I spoke with a colleague only the other day. He doesn’t know who I am on twitter but in response to using social media said “Stay well away from all of that. It’s just not worth it. You can get in so much trouble. Just stay away from it. Don’t go near it.”
I smiled, offered some platitudes and left the conversation as it was. It does illustrate beautifully though the problems that we face as tweeting police officers/staff. It gives a great indication of the fear that some people, including senior officers, hold about social media. These people need to be educated. Like King Canute could not hold back the tide, the rising swell of social media will not be stopped and we either get onboard and ride the wave or we get swept away by it. Where would you rather be?
My colleague, along with many others are in the valley. Safe, at ground level with a bag of crisps and a beer watching as some of us climb the mountain. From this position of safety they can praise us if we do well and laugh and pull us to pieces with “I told you so” comments when we get it wrong. Yet the fact remains that the mountain is there and we are drawn to climb it.
There is no map to the top. There is no one route that everyone has to take. There is no single skill needed that will ensure success. There are many factors that can make the climb harder; the weather, the time of day, fitness and stamina and the correct equipment.
I do not believe there can ever be a “one size fits all” policy for social media. We cannot draw a route up the mountain and say everyone must go that way. Some may not be able to reach some of the handholds or have the strength to tackle certain outcrops. We must find our own way to pick a route to the summit. We must use our common sense to KNOW when we are asking too much of ourselves and putting ourselves at risk. What the police can do nationally is give basic guidance on safety and equipment and point out the KNOWN danger areas. We should then be left to climb, to pick a route and scale to the top. If we stumble and fall back 20 metres then ACPO should be holding the belay rope to catch our fall, encourage us to continue and to try again. Error is the discipline through which we all advance. We only really learn when we make mistakes. The key is to not make those mistakes again… and again.. and again. Only when it becomes clear after ample warnings and guidance that you are a liability to your own safety and that of others should you be asked to come down from the mountain.
There have been a few social media fatalities on this mountain and there will no doubt be more before we are done. Some have climbed without any safety equipment at all. Some have dressed themselves up in all the right gear and look the part but really have no idea what they are doing. Others have simply been pulled off the mountain far too early in the way your parents stopped you climbing up the rocks/cliffs at the beach. “Come down you’ll fall.”
Others are tentatively climbing, step by step, hold by hold and learning as they go. As an organisation we cannot face down social media. It’s here to stay and only going to get bigger. For once, the police service needs to be ahead of the game instead of playing catch up. This needs a leap of faith and show of trust from command.
The #polwise meeting is a beginning, not an end. I hope we can set some foundations upon which to build that forces around the country can work with.
If we are going to attain the summit we need less people in the valley and more people on the mountain. I hope the meeting is the start of making sure that those officers and staff continue to “dare to climb” and do so from an informed position with all the equipment they need to ensure they do so safely.. no matter which route they choose to take.