Did We Leave Something Behind?

I started this social media journey a few years ago now.. it was an experiment. I had no idea where it was going to lead and whether it would be a raging success or get me into trouble.  I still don’t!

I was never as critical of some of the other anonymous bloggers and never set out to embarrass my employer, the office of constable or run the risk of losing my job and my pension. There have been lessons along the way though. In the early days there were the occasional angry tweet exchanges. The most spectacular was with David Allen Green. (aka Jack of Kent). Yet many months later I realised my folly and after trading emails with David I was delighted to regain his acquaintance.

As I followed this path I did pick up some friends, advisors and confidantes that have helped me along the way. Clive Chamberlain was the first and still my fondest port of call when I think I may be off the mark. I also had some fantastic support and guidance from the late Paul McKeever. As time went on though I also began to get support of some senior police officers from around the country. First notably was Gordon Scobbie the then DCC of Tayside Police and Social Media Lead for ACPO. I also gained support from ACC Gary Forsyth (WMP) and compliments from CC Giles York (Sussex) and so on. I also have a good friend in Ch Supt Irene Curtis the President of the Superintendents Association.

I remarked early on that if any police officer truly thinks they are anonymous on social media then they are a fool. It stands to reason that sooner or later somebody will realise who you are. As my popularity grew the risk of losing my identity increased. I disclosed my identity to some and others just put 2 and 2 together. As I began to attend conferences and events it became a bit farcical. At one BlueLightCamp John Popham actually diverted the camera away from me so that nobody could put a face to ‘The Custody Sgt’ as he live streamed the unconference sessions.

I was finally challenged by my Inspector. This could have been the beginning of the end. Yet it wasn’t. I think in reality about 12 to 18 months previously I would probably been told to shut down and stop but times had changed. Social media and police use of it was starting to grow. We were definitely going through a two steps forward, one step back process but a change of attitude was being developed. My own DCC got involved, scared the wotsits out of me at first, but turned out to be a great supporter, put faith and trust in me and pushed me into greater responsibility for the force’s social media output.

I feel very lucky to have had some true leaders and advocates of police social media alongside me on my journey. It could have been so different. My timing was good.. but that wasn’t skill. It was pure luck. There are many excellent police social media users who have fallen by the wayside as we got to the position we are in today. Those whose footsteps I trod in and shoulders I stood on.

My tone and style of content has changed over the years. Critics may say that I have gone a bit corporate. Others may say I’ve become more professional. Others may say I’m as crap as I always was!!

The #policingsocialcitizens event and unconference begins in Manchester tomorrow and I will be there. I’m going in my own time and at my own expense. Why? Would my force not support me? I’m not sure. I didn’t ask but they have supported me to attend a College of Policing event recently and I’m in the latter stages of securing agreement for the SMiLE conference in Birmingham in the autumn. I don’t want to push my luck but I also think that it helps to engender support and respect if you are willing to put something of yourself into the equation.

The event organiser Emma Daniels has been keen to see me blog in advance. I’ve racked my brains and considered many angles but the inspiration hasn’t come. I’m a failure!

Then today I noticed the news from Kent Police. They have announced a new policing model. Moving patrols into different teams, organising local areas and commanders and giving a better response to the public. The local Federation chair has said he welcomes the change but honestly believes that the changes the cuts have made, and continue to do, are having a dramatic effect on policing in the county.

There are more police teams on twitter now than ever before. They are all different but they are generally getting on with the job we do and promoting the good work they do that often never hits the mainstream media. Organisations who prefer to focus on negatives and calamities!

This has got to be great hasn’t it? The worlds best police service is also the worlds best on social media. Fantastic.

I’m drawn to on of my very first blogs. ‘Social Media and the Police’ – the central theme was ‘truth’. It discussed forces and senior officers not understanding social media and being scared of it. Losing control of media output from the force and the officers within it was a big cultural change many were simply not ready to accept. Some still haven’t. Though huge steps have been made.

At a BlueLightCamp a person suggested that police officers ventured onto social media anonymously because their voice wasn’t being heard. I countered by saying that wasn’t the case for me. It was more that gaping chasm between what was being pushed out in the media and hard facts of reality at ground level.

So as I go to the Policing Social Citizens event tomorrow I have one thing on my mind. We have made huge progress in our adoption of social media. We are building engagement and trust with our citizens.

Yet every day I have a list of resources and a list of outstanding/unresourced incidents that never balances. The officers are run ragged every day just to keep the wheel on. I fear that the situation we are in, no matter how much juggling around we do, is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. Whilst we have become very good at promoting the good we do I can’t help but wonder if in the process we have left the truth behind.

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