Category Archives: Twitter

Senior Command Course

On Friday 27th January I had the privilege of presenting to the Senior Command Course at Sunningdale. This is the course for Chief Superintendents and equivalent ranks from NCA and other police agencies around the world who aspire to the NPCC ranks.

The aims of the session were to;

  1. Introduce SCC2017 to social media and how it is being used by officers and the public
  2. Explain the pitfalls
  3. Show the positive side of communicating with staff and the public through social media

I was joined on the day by Commander John Sutherland, Jay Butcher (Digital Comms Lead – Surrey Police) and a representative from the Gendarmerie Nationale Comms team.

My presentation is reproduced below.

slide1

Good morning. I’m sure many of you sat here, when you began this course, had a ‘pinch me’ moment when the reality of actually being on this course came home to you. I’d like to congratulate you all on being selected and wish you well with your future. I too am having one of those pinch me moments because never at any point in my career did I ever think I would be stood here presenting to you. I am however, very grateful for the opportunity and hope my social media journey will help you shape yours.

I would also add that I have never presented in a room where Mr Marshall is present. All I can say Sir is that if I falter at any point feel free to heckle me.

slide2

So. Who am I? My name is Neil Dewson-Smyth and I’m a Sgt with Cheshire Police. I have 26yrs service, all in uniform, covering section and 7 years roads policing with GMP. I then transferred to Cheshire and was embedded into custody where I was a custody sgt for 7 years. I now work in the Force Control Room as a Force Incident Sgt. I’m also a self-confessed social media geek. I have no discipline history to speak of and have an unblemished career. I plan to keep it that way.

I’m also a threat, a risk, a loose cannon, a maverick….  a pain in the backside.

It’s difficult to imagine how those two descriptions can morph together into one person. The reason is because I have something that has developed during my time on social media. It’s not something I have sought or gone out of my way to obtain but simply a natural consequence of my use of social media and how it has developed for policing over recent years. It is one word and it sometimes causes friction between myself, senior leadership teams and especially corporate communications.

slide3Influence. I have the ability to make things happen and that can sometimes be problematic. In order to demonstrate this I’d like to give you a quick overview of some work I have been doing with something that is a passion of mine…. the #DontStreamAndDrive campaign.

slide4If you’re wondering what I’m talking about then it would be good to explain what livestreaming is. As you can see here in the picture. The lady is holding up her phone and using the camera as though she were recording a video. Livestreaming is exactly this but the application you are using immediately pushes that video onto the internet for others to view and interact with. You are essentially running a live broadcast.

As you can imagine I saw a whole host of opportunities to use live video both personally and professionally for my force and beyond. However, as I continued to immerse myself in this world I started to see something I hadn’t considered at all.

slide5Ladies and gentlemen. May I introduce you to the ‘livestreaming driver’. As you can see here the lady on the left has her phone mounted in a cradle but she has no hands on the steering wheel at all. The chap bottom centre has the phone placed on the instrument cluster, has no hands on the steering wheel and you can see a comment at the bottom of the screen. I actually watched this one live and I can tell you he was on the M62 in West Yorkshire in shocking weather conditions. Throughout the broadcast he was complaining about the driving conditions whilst taking his hands off the wheel and reading every comment that was sent to him. The remainder all have two things in common. They are livestreaming and they all have their eyes on the phone.. NOT.. the road ahead. This is very common for drivers livestreaming. If you need to change the radio station or a setting in the car then you quickly glance at the control and then return your full attention to the road. These drivers will often display a reversal of this where their primary focus is on the phone and only glance at the road. The dangers and risks every road user is exposed to by such drivers are obvious. But… we are up against it..

slide6Thought leaders, influencers and celebrities are all engaging in this behaviour and endorsing it. Bottom left is Grant Cardone, author and motivational speaker whom I have observed to stream and drive on a number of occasions. On the right is Scottish MP Ian Murray who recorded a video whilst driving in Montreal and then posted it to Twitter. James Corden is here with Adele. Carpool Karaoke has been massively popular for him. There may be huge security precautions in place. Two vehicles in front.. two behind.. low speed. He may even be on a trailer. However, when this goes live any safety precautions are stripped away and it just shows James larking around and singing in a car with a celebrity whilst driving. The risk of copycat behaviour here is very high.

slide7All this activity led me to launch the first #DontStreamAndDrive day on April 8th last year. With the support of CC Davenport, NRPIF and my own force the campaign will be running again this year as part of the national campaign in March when the mobile phone penalty doubles.

In order for you to now see how this influence works I need to step out from this and ask if you have seen the video I set you as homework last week.

slide8Has everyone seen it? I set the homework via Twitter. (no hands show). It looks like detention for everyone then! If you haven’t seen video I would ask you to Google “Ted Start A Movement” and watch this 4 min video. You can watch here;

In the video there is one key phrase;

The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader

This behaviour by drivers is a clear and obvious danger. As I began to circulate the message it struck a chord with many of my colleagues around the country, especially roads policing officers, who began to pick up on it and support my message. This continued to grow and after a few weeks I gained the support of TISPOL , the road safety charity BRAKE , the government THINK! team and Police Professional magazine. From that point on the campaign exploded with police forces, ambulance services, fire and rescue services, community organisations and road safety groups all supporting the campaign…… influence.

slide9As you can imagine this created a number of difficulties as my activity as an individual was now influencing the behaviour of forces and other organisations around the country. As it continued to grow it led to national media coverage. I appeared on BBC Radio 4 PM programme, ran tests in the Digi-Car at TRL for a BBC magazine article and also spoke on BBC Radio 5 Live.

slide10The day went ahead and the social media reach on the day was in excess of 20 million people on Twitter alone.

slide11Post event there was further publicity. Police Professional ran a follow-up article. The Daily Mail identified drivers engaged in this behaviour and ran an article. Latterly I appeared on national breakfast television to talk about the dangers of this behaviour and the campaign.

slide12I continue to call out and challenge people on social media who engage in this behaviour. However some activity goes beyond a warning and needs a firmer response. Prosecuting is not easy but isn’t impossible.

slide13This driver was convicted on evidence I secured in a very unorthodox way, whilst at home, on a rest day and some 200 miles away from where the offence was being committed. I submitted all the evidence to the Metropolitan Police at Hounslow and a young aspiring traffic officer took on the case. The driver pleaded guilty at court.

slide14Police communications have been static for many years. We use all the traditional channels.. tv, radio and newspapers but we service them. Social media came along and every force in the country signed up to it but we really had no idea what we were doing. It took a long time for forces to understand the difference between engagement and broadcasting. Nationally we are now much improved but some forces are better than others. Many are still hanging back. There is, and always is, a long way to go but the social media world and the platforms we use change on a weekly basis and we need to be dynamic and fleet of foot to keep up with it.

There are countless platforms and it is unrealistic to expect us to be everywhere. What we should do is aim to excel where we are and be innovative in our approach and have sufficient presence that the public know where to find us.

Social media influencers around the world now market themselves as storytellers. We have a story but we have always relied on others to tell it for us. We own that story and as our social media reach increases we are becoming the trusted voice and the “go to” source for the facts. We have the ability to publish our own stories without any editorial control or spin to huge audiences.

This is a change in practice that may upset our traditional media relationships. We will need to build new relationships but we should not neglect them… not everyone is on social media after all.

Social media is a powerful tool that allows us to spread news and information, appeal for help and update and inform our communities about major incidents and we should be exploiting it.

So what can you do? Well you could get on social media yourself but only do it if it’s right for you. Do it because you want to.. not because you think you should. Otherwise, as John said earlier, it looks a bit like social media Dad dancing and that’s just a bit embarrassing. Whilst I was here last night I saw a lot of excitement and banter amongst you about follower numbers. It’s important to remember that whilst this is fun it is not about followers. Content is king and followers will come naturally as a consequence of quality content.

Embrace, support and drive social media within your organisation but you don’t have to be on social media to be a digital leader. Identify skill and talent and exploit it for the benefit of your organisation and more importantly the communities we serve.

We all make mistakes.

slide15Historically, errors on social media were seen as a huge embarrassment and engendered a real sledgehammer response. More recently things have calmed down but you need to be able to differentiate between the foolish, silly and not thought through and the deliberately reckless actions contrary to the code of ethics.

As my tutor constable said to me;

Error is the discipline through which we all advance

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. One day in your future, sooner or later, an officer will stand before you waving a phone around and be all excited about an idea that sounds utterly crazy. Remember;

The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader

Give them their head. Let them run.. maybe join them? The results may surprise you. Break the template and dare to do things differently. YOU might be the one follower that lone nut needs to make an enormous difference.

slide16Thank you.

 

 

 

The Highest Standards

Whenever a police officer gets themselves into a bit of a mess we often hear or read this comment;

Police officers are public servants from whom we expect the highest standards..

This of course is correct and rightly so. We are public servants, we uphold the law and take an oath to act with impartiality and are bound by a code of ethics that demands integrity and honesty. Our behaviour, if we are to be trusted and have the confidence of the public, has to be exemplary.

This week is #RoadSafetyWeek and as you would expect I have been pushing out messages to support this campaign along with #DontStreamAndDrive, #Fatal4 and others. Whenever I engage in a determined effort to tackle the use of phones by drivers I am pretty much always challenged about the use of radios by police officers.

“Why can police use their radios?”

“Surely police using their radios is just as dangerous”

“One rule for us and another for the cops”

“If I was doing that I’d get a ticket”

This is only a sample of the comments that I get back and in some ways you have to agree with them. Yes we are trained to a higher standard but the risks and dangers are still there and to be honest the ‘because we are better trained drivers’ just doesn’t wash with many people at all. The police aren’t the only drivers on the road trained to a high standard. Over the years the IAM have trained countless people on how to be better and safer drivers.

So what makes us so special? In reality nothing. We are not special at all so why do you get a ticket for using a phone but we use our radios without an issue? First of all there is a difference between a phone and a radio. It is covered in the mobile phone legislation where it makes a distinction between a mobile phone and a two-way radio. The legislation then creates exemptions for certain frequencies. I understand this was to ensure that government and private organisaions that routinely use two way radio e.g. police, ambulance and taxi drivers, could still do so. This was fairly simple for the police when the personal radios we used operated on the UHF frequencies. They were a radio. Nothing more and nothing less. Then we had the introduction of the TETRA system and things got a little more complicated because these devices are primarily a two-way radio but can also be used like a phone. They also looked much more like a phone. Many arguments arose about this but the frequencies used still fell into a band that is legal. Even before TETRA the police were starting to build hands free functionality into their patrol vehicles, especially so for traffic vehicles that often had a VHF set fitted within them. This practice has continued and most vehicles now have this capability.

So the bare bones of this are that using a hand held mobile phone whilst driving is illegal. Using a two radio (frequency exemptions permitting) is not. However, there is no overridding exemption and when the police use their radios their driving standard has to be maintained. If it falls below the required standards then prosecution may follow. Here lies the rub though. If we forget frequencies and function and simply look at both devices there are many similarities. They are a communication device that can be hand held and can create a distraction for the driver. They are both capable of being operated handsfree but the majority of the time a police officer uses PTT (push to talk). This requires the officer to be hands on. That said the radio is generally affixed to the officers body armour and can be let go of in an instant should both hands be needed on the wheel. It also doesn’t fall to the floor as a mobile phone would. Whilst the radio has a screen it is not integral to the operation and nor does it need to be viewed. A phone on the other hand could be dropped but creates that secondary distraction. Where is it? Is it in your lap or the footwell. Has the screen smashed? In this footage from the USA the driver is using a mobile phone and despite the situation she gets herself into she does not let go of the phone at all.

The two-way radio clearly needs less input than a phone and operates differently but in light of smart handsfree technology it could also be argued that a totally voice controlled phone is safer.

I blogged recently about the mobile phone legislation and how, by allowing handsfree operation, it appeared to have focussed entirely on the importance of having the drivers hands on the wheel.* If that is correct and was seen as the danger that drove the legislation then the same can be said for any other device that operates in a similar way regardless of frequency. I can imagine this was a tough decision though as a blanket ban was going to cause huge issues for countless  999 organisations and others. The net effect would have taken every taxi driver and courier off the road overnight. It would seem therefore that practical, financial and employment issues stepped in over outright road safety. There was a trade off.

*What this did was ignore the fact that eyes on the road and mind on the road are also essential.

Police and road safety organisations all encourage no distractions in the driving environment at all. We encourage people to turn their phone off or pull over at the side of the road and park safely before using their phone. Whilst they do that the police officer or taxi driver passes by using a radio without an issue and this creates a disparity that angers many. There is of course the issue of urgency. The phone call from the dentist or from your boss is generally not life or death. The messages a police officer gets passed often are.  I’m sure you’d agree that it would be a farcical situation for an officer to ignore being shouted on the radio. Instead they pull over in a safe place, park, stop and then speak to the control room to be given an emergency that they could already be half way to if they hadn’t stopped.

So what makes a taxi drivers call urgent? Can it be viewed in the same light? Many taxi’s now operate on different systems altogether and in the case of Uber is entirely mobile phone based. The latter is another argument and blog entirely.

However, we are also in a place of increasing technology and information within our vehicles. On a recent TV program a medical technician driving an ambulance was seen to be looking down and reading img_1575out loud the detail of their next job on a screen fitted to the vehicle. We also know from the program that he was not on his own. So why is the screen fitted to the ambulance in a way that the driver can see it and read it whilst in motion? Are we putting temptation and distraction in the drivers way? Setting them up to fail and increasing the risk of road collisions? Many police officers in the UK now carry tablets. Some may hook up to cars. The ones issued in my force don’t but if we look to the US many of their patrol cars have a full size laptop fitted to the dash. If we then add all the ANPR screens and information in police cars there are additional distractions that can pull the drivers attention from the road. Even more so if single crewed.

To add further fuel to the debate there have been a number of occasions where police officers have been caught using mobile phones whilst driving. In this situation the officer was on police land as detailed in the report. Here an officer in Nottingham is reported to have been using a phone whilst driving.

It’s not surprising really that many drivers cry foul when caught using their phone. There is a double standard engendered here either by poor behaviour or legislation. This creates a ‘Don’t do as I do.  Do as I say’ scenario.

The scales are set with ultimate road safety on one side and practicality/financial issues on the other. Every death or serious injury on the roads is something to avoid and if we can enact legislation that reduces them we should. However, it does have to be tempered with common sense. There are practical solutions. If all police officers were double crewed then the passenger could handle all the radio traffic and information in the car. That said the current staffing levels mean this would create a huge issue for policing and communities. Yet as we can tell from the ambulance situation above, even with two people in the vehicle the distraction is still there and the driver can be drawn to it like a moth to flame.

As technology becomes increasingly mobile it is adding burdens to the driver in the car. The police and many other organisations both public and private are adding technology and screens that could potentially distract the driver. Mobile phones have rapidly evolved and provide countless ways for all drivers to be distracted other than by the traditional calls and texts.

The bottom line is that any distraction whatsoever is dangerous and could lead to death or serious injury. Whilst police officers can use a radio legally they are still entirely responsible for the standard of their driving. We also know that should that standard slip then they can expect the full weight of the law crushing down on them because of the position they hold and will be held to the highest standards.

It is concerning though that police drivers who will be held to the highest standards, rigourously investigated by the IPCC and expected to adhere to the code of ethics are having potential distractions put in their way by the organisations that employ them.

 

In The Hood

A suspect arrest a short while back
has caused the police to get some flack.
The suspect chose to struggle and fight
the officers using all their might
could not contain this fight, this war
they had to take him to the floor.

The struggle went on
and on and on.

An arm swung up, “look out a fist!”
A cuff placed swiftly on a wrist.
Cuffed, restrained nowhere to go
but with a crowd he made a show.

Immobilised legs, arms no use
with nothing else he hurled abuse.
The crowd recorded with their phones
every cry, wail and groan.
Live video and vines on a loop
on YouTube this will be a scoop.

This will be an Internet hit.
The cops had used all their kit.

With arms and legs out of play
and nothing more he could say
he played his final gambit
spit spit spit

He missed but ohh this was not good.
But wait the cops had a spit hood.
This man was a total stranger
infection was a real danger.
Swiftly placed upon the head
his ill intentions were put to bed.
Bystanders and what they saw
caused outrage, shock and uproar.

Foul behaviour cut off mid flow.
The cops knew they had to go.
On his feet they took their man
and lodged him securely in a van.

The suspect may not ever tell
of what he thought whilst in that cell.
Yet despite how spit hoods might appear
causing shock, anger or fear.
The cops who engaged in that fight
went home to loved ones safe that night.

Civilised society to you and me
is often not what we cops see.
The nasty underbelly of life
can cause gentler folk some strife.
This is just what we cops do.
Fight for our safety, me and you.

#DontStreamAndDrive Day

Friends. I need your help.

Driving is a complex operation. A blending of eye, hand and foot coordination that can propel a vehicle down a road at incredible speed. A process that requires skill, judgement, responsibility and places upon you, as a driver, a duty of care to yourself and every other road user.

If done correctly, driving a car fully occupies your attention. Listen to my simple commentary here as I drive down country lanes. Now consider that in a city with pedestrians, cyclists, pedestrian crossings, more traffic, buses, more road signs, junctions and hazards. If you are fully focussed on your driving you have zero time to do anything else.

The use of mobile phones by drivers has been in existence since the devices were introduced. The specific offences were introduced to UK legislation in 2003.

As phones have become an essential part of day to day life the use of them by drivers has increased. Stand at any busy junction for 5 minutes and count how many drivers you see using a phone. You will be appalled. Studies have shown that driving ability is clearly impaired by using a mobile phone and that talking on a hand-held mobile phone impairs driving more than driving above the drink drive limit. Just think about that for a moment.

The Government in the UK recognise the implications of this behaviour and have, over the years, gradually increased the penalty for this offence. There is currently a consultation on bumping them up again. However, indications are that use by drivers is not reducing.

When questioned many people will agree that drinking and driving is unacceptable but will often happily get behind the wheel after 1 or 2 drinks. When asked, some people will agree that using a phone whilst driving is dangerous but will do it themselves. Why? Because they are a safe driver? There is regularly a disconnect between what people ‘think’ about certain behaviours and what they allow themselves to do.

In 2014, using a mobile phone whilst driving was a contributory factor in 21 fatal accidents. 21 families torn apart with grief. 21 lives needlessly taken because of unnecessary mobile phone use. Have you used a phone whilst driving? Did you think about the consequences and still use the phone anyway… or is this sort of tragedy, the kind of thing that happens to others? You’re a safe driver right? Wrong… if you use a phone whilst driving…. VERY wrong. It can, does and will happen to someone just like you.

But there is more to worry about. This isn’t making phone calls. This isn’t sending texts. This is the massively increasing trend of livestreaming on the internet. Livestreaming is fun and a great way to engage with friends and others online. You can show viewers what you are doing, what you are looking at and let them see who you are, your personality and your life. This is great when in a city and showing the sights, streaming an amazing sunset on Hawaii or the view from a hot air balloon drifting over the Serengeti. It’s amazing and really opens up other peoples worlds to us. There are many platforms to do this from such as Periscope, MeVee, Blab, Meerkat, Facebook and Snapchat. It stands to reason though that live streaming is going to come into the driving arena.

That last sentence is deliberately phrased to give the impression the problem is coming. The reality though is that livestreaming and driving is already here. I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at what people are doing and have been left utterly speechless. Drivers holding phones and broadcasting whilst they drive. Drivers flipping the camera whilst holding the phone whilst they drive. Drivers reading comments that viewers have put on the screen and engaging in conversations. Drivers showing themselves driving and the scary amount of time their eyes are looking at the phone and not on the road. Drivers admitting that what they are doing is probably illegal, reckless or dangerous.. but STILL DOING IT! Drivers who are almost giving a presentation… aiming for some sort of social media celebrity status  and desperately trying to impress viewers.

Yesterday I watched a young woman in the USA, streaming, driving, reading the comments, replying to the viewers and was adjusting her hair at the same time. She had no hands at all on the steering wheel.

The consequences of this new behaviour are very frightening. It will not be long before the first person livestreams their own death or that of another whilst driving.

I have called out a few people over the last few weeks who have streamed and drived. I have tried to point out the dangers and have used some videos to try and reinforce the point.

You can find them all here.

Livestreaming and driving is increasing every day. The people I have called out are roughly split into 3 groups. Those who don’t reply to me at all, those who are in denial (“I’m a safe driver” and “I never touched the phone”) and those who realise what they have done and commit to never do it again.

I’ll finish as I started. ‘I need your help’

On Friday 8th April 2016 I plan to run a #DontStreamAndDrive day.

Over the next few weeks I will be asking you to help support the day. To get the message out to as many people as possible that livestreaming and driving can be a fatal.

I will be asking you as a livestreamer to get online and post a short broadcast with the hashtag. In the broadcast you will give your commitment to never stream and drive, encourage others not to and that you will never watch a broadcast when the host is driving. Those on Twitter who do not livestream will be encouraged to post a picture holding a card with the hashtag or written on their hand in the classic palm forward ‘stop’ style. More detailed info will follow nearer the date.

I plan to speak to as many road safety agencies as I can to gain support. I will approach all my policing colleagues in the UK, North America and beyond to get them to help and share the message both in advance and then support the event on the day.

I know that every right thinking person would want to reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Ironically every streaming driver I have seen would probably say the same…. we need to bridge the gap between the mindset and the behaviour. We need to get the message out there now, nice and early, to current and future livestreamers that streaming and driving is massively dangerous and must not be done.

Thank you for reading. Thank you to those who have supported me so far. Thank you if I’ve touched a chord and you think you will be able to help me in advance of and on the April 8th itself.

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook then please consider signing up to the #DontStreamAndDrive Thunderclap

The message is really quite simple; #DontStreamAndDrive

I am delighted that #DontStreamAndDrive day has the support of the amazing organisations and police forces;

Supporters 160407

(click image for larger version)

Police Professional Magazine ; Fixers UK ; THINK! ; TISPOL ; Road Safety GB ; Brake Charity ; Safe Drive GM ; Road Safety Wales ; Birmingham Updates ; Wasted Lives ; National Crime Agency ; Bedfordshire Police ; Leicestershire Police ; Surrey Police ; North Yorkshire Police ; North Wales Police ; College of Policing ; Cumbria Crack ; Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service ; Wiltshire Police ; Sussex Police ; Avon and Somerset Police ; Police Federation of England and Wales ; Norfolk Police ; Suffolk Police ; RoSPA ; West Yorkshire Police ; West Midlands Fire Service ; Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service ; Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service ; East Anglia Air Ambulance ; North West Motorway Patrol Group ;

*Featured image courtesy of Mike Petrucci on Flickr (satnav screen image changed and text added)

Skype Wars

Click here for Star Wars crawler

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away……

[cue Star Wars fanfare]

A New Hope

It is a period of civil unrest.
NPCC rebels striking from
a hidden base, have won their
first victory against the evil
Empire.

During the battle, rebel spies
managed to steal secret plans
to the Empire’s ultimate weapon,
the DEATH KNELL. A cunning plan
to reduce rebel numbers,
increase their workload and destroy
policing forever.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister
agents, Prince Alec of the Cambridge
alliance races to HQ, custodian
of the stolen plans that can save
his force, the public they serve and
restore freedom to the galaxy…..

At my recent TEDx talk I said that Skype, FaceTime and other video applications would become more common place in policing and forces needed to build this into their call handling infrastructure.

Yesterday, amongst a tidal wave of misinformed commentary, Cambridgeshire Police announced plans to use Skype as a contact method. The story was reported in the media in a variety of ways.

The BBC were fairly balanced and the Daily Mail (as you would expect) were less so.

Cambridgeshire Police were far calmer, rational and informative with their news release. 

There was also a discussion on LBC about it. Clive Chamberlain (@MrCliveC) appeared on the Nick Ferrari show and the conversation continued later in the next show.

The pilot the Cambridgeshire Police are running has been described as a retrograde step and ushering in an era of “virtual policing”. Callers to LBC explained how this service was going to maginalise pensioners who cannot afford computers, don’t use computers and don’t have internet connections. Others said it was a disgrace and just a cost cutting measure. Another way the police were squirming out of doing their job. The commentary ran from the ridiculous

“I’ve been burgled and my laptop stolen. How can I Skype you?

to the absurd

“How am I supposed to Skype the police whilst being stabbed?”

In order to address some of these concerns let’s apply a healthy dollop of common sense to the whole debate.

Skype is a big, no, enormous business that allows millions of users worldwide to connect and engage in video conversations with friends, family and for business. It is a modern form of communication that is increasing in popularity as faster internet speeds have made it easier to achieve a reliable service.

If the public are using this service in vast numbers then why not the police if we can see a use for it?

How are the police going to use it? It’s important to immediately dismiss any notion that Skype will replace emergency 999 calls or that it is to be the only method of contacting he police. I tweeted to LBC;

The Skype debate is not “we are moving to Skype get used to it”…. It’s “here is another option you may choose to use” @LBC

It actually made it on air and to be fair Tom Swarbrick really couldnt see the issue his callers had with the proposal.

The Cambridgeshire news article is quite clear. They deal with some 101 calls by an appointment system. This won’t be all 101 calls but it will be those that have been assessed as being suitable to be dealt with by appointment. This is not new. My force runs such a scheme. West Midlands have also had a “diary car” for some time. These booking systems work and provide a good service. Let me explain why.

You are having continual problems with your neighbour. There is nothing going on right now but you want to speak to the police about the issue. You call 101. The police take the call and consider the priority to deal with the it. Many people will demand to see a police officer and you do too but tell the call handler that you are only available until 3pm and need to see someone before then. The call taker can see the list of imagepriority and emergency incidents already pending. They make an assessment and try to steer you toward an appointment. The nature of demand means we cannot promise to get to you before 3pm. You could sit there waiting all day only to get a call at 2.50pm apologising that we can’t get to you and asking when you are next free. You get cross, arrange a time window for the next day of 10am to 2pm. You sit around all day again and we still haven’t got to you. This process can sometimes roll on for days. This makes us worse than the boiler repair company who say they will be with you at ‘some’ time between 8am and 6pm. Your whole day, or several, are wasted.

So we make an appointment. A dedicated officer not responding to immediate and priority incidents will attend at a given time and see you. You can plan your time accordingly. Brilliant. You get a better service and we come to see you. Win all round.

The appointment systems are a good way of ensuring we deal with (a phrase not liked in policing) ‘slow time’ demand.

So where does Skype fit in with this? Many issues do not need the physical presence of a police officer. We just need to take the facts, evaluate the circumstances then give advice and put a plan in place to deal with it. So in the appointment scenario above the call handler asks the Skype question. You are a modern person. You understand the demands on policing and you don’t really care how you communicate the problem to the police, you just want something done. You accept the offer, the police officer Skypes you at the given time and the matter moves along. It’s different and more interactive than just a phone call.

Of course you may say “I don’t have Skype” or “I really would like to talk in person with an officer”. Then guess what? We’re coming. It’s as simple as that.

Of course this is a new direction for police contact. Traditionalists will see it as a step that distances the police even further from the community. Some will see it as the thin edge of the wedge and the harbinger for virtual police officers based in call centres in Bangalore.*

Will this save money? Yes but in reality a negligible amount… fuel etc. Will it save time? Yes. Stacks of it; particularly in rural forces where beat areas can be several hundred square miles. In policing our most precious resource is our staff and their most precious commodity is their time. If in some small way we can utilise a more efficient way of communicating with people, when it suits them and us, then it has to be a good thing. It saves us money but more importantly time. Time we can then put to good use.

The outrage bus of misinformation was in top gear in the fast lane yesterday. This is not the death knell of policing as we know it. This is not the end of personal visits from police officers. This is not the abandonment of traditional contact methods such as 101, 999, email, letter and webpage. This is adding another option for the public to use to contact us in a way that suits them.

The space the police occupy on the internet is increasing every day. We Tweet, we Facebook, we Instagram, we Periscope, we YouTube and more. We are starting to broadcast public meetings on Blab so that those who cannot attend such meetings in person (disability, single parents and more) can do so digitally and have their voice heard. Now we Skype too. Is there seriously something wrong with that?

To those of you that doubt this idea I repeat the words of a famous Dark Lord…

“I find your lack of faith disturbing..”

Darth Vader

May the [police] force be with you…  in a way that suits you, us and works.

  • [irony and sarcasm alert] The police have always been years behind the private sector. Just as the banks are moving away from off shore call centres it would follow tradition that we would now move off shore! There are probably a few call centres going cheap. [/ends]