What appears below is the introduction to a research paper written for the Independent Police Commission of England and Wales. The IPC are due to report in 2013 and the Commission is being led by the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Lord Stevens. Download the full paper in .pdf format here.
With the rapid expansion of social media websites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook it is clear that the police service needs to modernise and utilise these new methods of communicating a message to businesses and the public. The police service needs to be using these free engagement tools in order to communicate quickly and effectively whilst ensuring that they are getting the correct message out to the public that does not in anyway impede on a criminal investigation or appeal.
We have seen over the last few years and particularly within the last year the rapid increase in the number of police officers using social media to communicate and interact with the communities they serve. Neighbourhood policing teams are either using or looking at using Twitter or Facebook to provide short updates to people within their neighbourhood on what is happening where they live.
There are of course pros and cons to the police using social media, however with the right guidelines in place and the right safety nets the pros far outweigh the cons. It is particularly important for the police service to ensure no information is released via social media feeds that may well jeopardise an investigation.
Every police force within the United Kingdom is on Twitter and a majority of forces have a Facebook page which people can ‘like’. This means that the police service can get a message out far faster than releasing a press release or calling a press conference. A recent example of the police using social media to appeal for information is the abduction and suspected murder of 5 year old April Jones in Machynlleth, Wales.
It is worth remembering that social media is not a replacement tool for the police; traditional methods of communicating a message such as the print press and television need to continue to be used. Social media may be incredibly popular but not everybody understands it. Figures from 2011 show that those within the age bracket 18-24 use social media least whereas those aged between aged between 35-44 use it the most.1 Many people simply don’t understand what social media or Twitter is and it is those people and those without the internet or a Smartphone that need to be reached out to by alternative means.
Tom Scholes-Fogg is a Policing, Politics and Current Affairs blogger, freelance writer and co-editor of ‘What next for Labour? Ideas for a new generation‘ which was published in September 2011. More information about the book is available at www.whatnextforlabour.com. He first became active in politics by doing impressions of well known politicians and others such as Tony Blair and Boris Johnson. He has held various positions within the Labour Party at branch, constituency and district level. Prior to his involvement in politics he trained as a chef with the Hilton. Tom has particular interests in policing, counter-terrorism and defence. His choice of charity is the National Police Memorial Day and the Police Memorial Trust, and he holds a qualification in Policing, Investigation and Criminology. He is currently doing some work for the Independent Police Commission which is looking at the future of policing in England and Wales.