Tag Archives: policing

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.


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.


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.




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.

Uniformity at HMIC

Yesterday, Sunday 29th September 2013, members of the police service from around the country gathered at Cardiff with family, friends and colleagues of fallen police officers for National Police Memorial Day (NPMD).

As a national and highly regarded event it attracts the senior officers from many forces along with with other dignitaries such as the Home Secretary Theresa May. Also in attendance in his role as Chief Inspector of HMIC was Mr Tom Winsor.

Mr Winsor is not popular with many police officers. He is the architect of reforms to policing that many officers feel are undermining the police service in England and Wales and destroying the office of constable. Mr Winsor is also the first Ch Insp of HMIC that has not come from a police background.

In advance of the day the HMIC leaked confirmation that Mr Winsor would be wearing a ceremonial uniform at NPMD. It was inevitable that this news would cause a stir amongst police officers. Both matters have proved to be true. Mr Winsor did indeed attend in full ceremonial uniform and there has been a huge amount of criticism across social media from police officers. There has however been little to no mention of it in the traditional national media channels.

Commentators have said that his decision to wear a police uniform is a disgrace. They have asked how can he look at himself in the mirror. They have said if he wants to wear a police uniform he should do so on a Saturday night in one of our busy cities or towns. Others say the uniform is earned as a police officer and he has done nothing to earn it. There are also at least two petitions set up. One requesting he does not wear any police uniform and the other that he should apologise to parliament for this poor decision.

We know that the Ch Insp of HMIC has always been a senior police officer. Those officers have always worn a uniform and have held the office of constable. As a consequence it was inevitable that when the HMIC was formed the Ch Insp would have a uniform. They did, they have and they still do. A history of Ch Insp’s of HMIC in all their finery can be seen here.

All those images are police officers. They look exactly how we expect them to and because we have grown used to them being drawn from police officer ranks it sits easily with us. It’s normal.

When the news broke I too was somewhat upset. A day or so before the event I tweeted a tongue in cheek question about whether impersonating a police officer was still an offence. After that though I stopped. The NPMD was for families, friends and colleagues of fallen officers. Those members of our police family who have laid down their lives in the service of the public. That was the focus of the day. Not arguing about what Mr Winsor decided to wear.

Having browsed through the HMIC website I cannot find one picture of Mr Winsor. There is a “who we are” page that details who all the Inspectors are but no photographs. I may be wrong but I’m sure there used to be? The page illustrates a well known fact that not all the Inspectors are police officers. It’s been this way for a while. When police officers they have continued with their uniform though I’m sure only for formal occasions. However, I’m not aware of an Inspector from a non-police background ever wearing a uniform. Mr Winsor is in a different kettle of fish though as he is the Chief Inspector.

So here’s a question. Has the Ch Insp always worn a uniform because they were a police officer or because the uniform came with that position? When the HMIC was formed somebody somewhere made a decision about uniform. Was that decision based on;

“this is an important role for the government and crown and needs a ceremonial uniform to mark it’s importance”;

or was it based on;

“Chief Con A is going to fill this role and as a police officer we should give him a uniform”?

Clearly any Chief Con would have a uniform from their current force. That said HMIC is not a force and had to be seen as independent so any uniform worn would have to be non geographic. I can’t find any history about the HMIC to this extent but I suspect the second option was more likely to be the rationale. That process has become the accepted norm and only now when the Ch Insp is not a police officer has a problem arisen.

The HMIC have said that the uniform is ceremonial and as Ch Insp, Mr Winsor is entitled to wear it. They have also been keen to point out that it is not a police uniform. The first part here is quite acceptable. We cannot deny his position whether we agree with it or not. The second though is somewhat disingenuous. Have a look at the uniform. If we ignore the ridiculously ostentatious braiding and the awful trousers, Mr Winsor is wearing what every member of the British public associates with a police officers tunic. We live in an age now where the public often cannot tell the difference between a PC or a PCSO and in some cases a security guard. Any person looking on Mr Winsor’s uniform will instantly associate it with the police.

Now interestingly Mr Winsor and the Home Secretary both before and during his appointment have made it quite clear that the most significant part of his appointment was that he was NOT a police officer. It does seem somewhat ironic after such statements that he now wears the Ch Insp uniform and looks every bit like a police officer.

Overall I think he and the HMIC have made a huge error of judgement in this case. I believe the uniform for the HMIC evolved simply because the role was always filled by a highly regarded and competent police officer. As the role of the person occupying the position of Ch Insp of HMIC has changed, so should the need to wear this uniform.

Mr Winsor is quoted by Police Oracle as saying he would rather be criticised for showing respect than not. I struggle to reconcile this statement. I think there are many folk out there who would have criticised Mr Winsor’s attendance no matter what he wore. I don’t deny that he had a place at NPMD and I think he could have satisfactorily shown his respect simply by being present. The uniform was an unnecessary and insensitive addition.

But you know what? I don’t care. If Mr Winsor wants to look like a police officer (with the exception of that braid and those trousers) then let him get on with it. In some ways it signifies a lot of changes that are going to come our way like direct entry. Some folk may get upset hurt or angry. I can sympathise with that but I’m not going to get into a fluster about it.

I didn’t feel entitled to put on my uniform on the first day at training school. I hadn’t earned it then. I have now and I’m very proud of it and those of you who know me will know how long and hard I’ve battled to get a tunic. This is my uniform. Nobody else’s. Mr Winsor can wear what he likes because in the grand scheme of things it makes no difference to me, my role and the passion I have for policing.

I don’t care what he wears. If he wants to look silly that’s entirely up to him. What I care about is every single one of us out there wearing the uniform on a daily basis to protect the public. What I care about is those of us we have lost over the years who wore it too. In comparison, Mr Winsor and his uniform are entirely, wholeheartedly and comprehensively insignificant.