Tag Archives: social media

Diversification

This week I gave a very short presentation at work via video conferencing. My topic was on social media and diversification of content and platform. You can find what I said below.

Good afternoon everyone. For those of you that don’t know me my name is Neil Dewson-Smyth and I’m a Sgt working here at HQ in control room. I have been involved with force social media directly or indirectly since 2011. I’m also well known across the UK and around the world as @SgtTCS on Twitter. I was one the early police officer adopters who took to social media anonymously. From there I  trod the precarious path of talking publicly about police work. A practice that was at the time frowned upon and caused all sorts of fear in forces around the country leading to discipline matters for many officers and staff.

Times have changed. I’m no longer anonymous and whilst I am not officially endorsed by Cheshire Police I am recognised and known as a police officer on Twitter across the UK and around the world. My #DontStreamAndDrive campaign has garnered the support of forces around the country, North America and the world. Ambulance, fire & rescue services, road safety organisations and the UK Govt THINK! Team have all given it their support. This years campaign was coordinated with NPCC Road Policing Lead. I have given presentations on this road safety issue at various conferences including NRPIF, TISPOL, NDORS and Road Safety Wales. In April this year I went to Los Angeles and won the ConnectedCops Social Media Leadership award. Social media has created opportunities for me that I never envisaged and allows me, in my own way, I hope, to make a difference as a police officer.

I did have some speakers lined up for you today from across the country and from Miami in the USA. Sadly, policing demands and technology compatibility issues made it too difficult to achieve. That said I do think it’s important to hear about the journeys other people have taken from their perspective and hear their success stories. This is a far more impactive way of showing you what can be achieved than just listening to me. I hope to be able to try to do this again soon.

So as I said, forces across the country are more relaxed about social media than they ever were. In force and across the country we are starting to see some innovative content and engagement. Some of you here are already using social media for your LPU (Local Policing Unit). Some maybe not. As a consequence some of you will be more comfortable with social media than others. Some of you may be using it tentatively and some of you are creating brilliant content for Facebook and Twitter.

Slightly contrary to the brief Supt Crowcroft outlined earlier, I’m not going to tell you what to tweet and how to make Facebook posts better. That for most users is a trial and error process. You will no doubt have posted something you thought was brilliant and got very little engagement. You will also have posted something fairly mundane and got a much better response. Sometimes there appears to be no logic to what works and what doesn’t. There is no secret sauce… but the key thing is to diversify… an account full of content about community meetings, yet another recovered vehicle for no insurance and a stock ‘don’t do this’ type message, such as ‘don’t leave your windows open’, is unlikely to set the world on fire. Your content needs to be varied, engaging, serious, informative, humourous, entertaining and unique. There is so much stuff we do in the police. So much information we can share and we are barely scratching the surface. So to dig deeper we need some innovative thinking, being bold enough to try something different and acknowledging that mistakes will be made along the way.

So whilst you think about your new and fantastic content I want you to think about diversifying even further. In Force we are using Facebook and Twitter but ask yourself a question. Are these the best platforms and hitting the right audience for you? Have you identified a specific, maybe hard to reach section of your community, that you can engage with in a different way? Would that be better achieved with Instagram, Snapchat, live video or a blog? Maybe you need to be using Pinterest or Music.ly? Do you have a specific skill that you could exploit to reach a group of people? Maybe you sing or play the guitar. Maybe you run 10k’s or half marathons or can ride BMX bikes in tubes. Dare to be different. Otherwise you’re doing what we have always done and as the saying goes.. you will therefore always get the same result.

Talk to the people in your community. Identify the platforms they use and and then ask them.. “would it be useful I was on there too?” When you go to the local park to talk to youths being noisy.. don’t just clear them off … spend some time with them chatting.. ask the questions.. what social media platform are you all on? Do you have any problems? Do you see people doing foolish things that need help? Do you think it would help if we had someone on there for help and advice? You can then explore whether there is an opening for you to reach out to that group of people and provide a valuable community service.  But don’t worry about numbers of followers. If you have a new platform and only have 20 people following you it doesn’t matter. If by being there you have a positive impact upon just one of them that keeps them safe, steers them away from a predator or prevents crime… then it is without doubt an outright and unmitigated success and time well spent.

Every social media platform on the planet is available to you – if you want to use it in force you only need to ask for it but be prepared to explain why and what for. A good argument for what you want and why will likely make it happen. Just asking for it because ‘you want it’.. won’t. Corp Comms are there to support the front line but you need to be able evidence what you want and why.

As an example I would direct you to PC Mark Walsh from Hampshire police who was going to speak today. He was on Twitter and doing very well – he still is. Then when talking to young people he worked with he realised that many of them were using the platform Vine. Some forces had Vine accounts but were not using them. Mark took it upon himself to set up a Vine account. He capitalised on his own skill set, his unique sense of humour and specifically targeted a group of young people that Twitter and Facebook were missing. The result was amazing. He posted dozens of short videos… and had millions of loops. He hit his target audience but then it went further and he reached people well away from his local community of the same age group but also every other age group. He had national and international media attention.

There are two lessons to learn from Mark’s experience.

1.

Dare to be different and try something new. He came up with something that utilised his own special skill set and capitalised on that to make a real difference.

2.

The second one is about the platform. Where is Vine today? Gone. No more. Closed down. We are using Twitter and Facebook predominantly in force and they are both stalwarts of the social media world but nothing is forever. Vine disappeared very quickly. Twitter has had a number of occasions over the last few years where the social media world has been alive to the belief that Twitter is going to go. It’s still there but the point is this.. nothing lasts forever. Where would we be if Twitter and Facebook announced they were shutting down forever at the end of August? We would be scrabbling to find the replacements and build our following to keep getting our messages out there. So it’s important to be looking at and trying new and emerging platforms and whether they work for us even if that’s only a short lived case like Vine or more long term like Twitter and Facebook.

As I said earlier today hasn’t been about what to do – it’s been about asking you to look at other ways of doing things that may OR may not work for you and your LPU/Dept/Team. If you have a desire, dream or aspiration to do something different, something unique or something quirky then you need to start looking at how you can do that.

Corp Comms are there to help, advise and support the frontline in policing their community and keeping them informed. Just don’t go to them with a wish list – go to them with evidence supporting your request.

I, of course, am always available to help and advise you wherever I can.

Thank you very much

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.

 

 

 

#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)

#OffBeat – The UK Police Blab

The second blab but the first that was a proper event. 

I was joined by @nathanconstable and @constablechaos. I then spent considerable time dropping in and out with a very poor Internet connection. I am very grateful to @nathanconstable for continuing to keep the show going whilst I disappeared, returned and disappeared again!

This is a new medium but is gaining interest every day and the feedback we have had so far has been wholly supportive. 

On a replay if all seats are occupied you would see a quad with 4 people. However, if, like @nathanconstable , you disable the camera then he doesn’t show at all. As a result the screen jumps around a bit depending on who is live and in a seat. It was a great show though and well worth a watch/listen. See it all here. 

https://t.co/5EiKyA4UnG

The next #OffBeat blab is 8pm on Wednesday 11th November. Hope to see you there. 

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]