Today saw the launch of Surrey Police Beat, the app we’ve been working on for the last few months. It was an important milestone for police engagement with local communities and a glimpse into how some police services may look in future. I’m really pleased with the response so far – but download it now from the App Store and tell me what you think…
Today has also made me relfect on the media coverage and commentary about police and criminal use of social media. This comes at a time when the Home Secretary has invited Twitter, Facebook and others along to a meeting to discuss how to respond to the use of social media in the recent riots and violent disorder.
Of course social media can be used for criminal purposes, and with that in mind it is a good source of intelligence and offers lines of enquiry for follow up investigation. I don’t believe that we can prevent this by “turning it off”; it is something that needs to be policed. One comment on Twitter by @phillprice summed it up for me: “The quickest way to create panic is to remove access to something. Be that Twitter or Water.”
For me it would have to be a national security emergency to warrant any such action, as the breakdown in public trust and confidence would be significant. You have to consider the impact on people who are using social media as a force for good – to check loved ones are ok, or as we saw to excellent effect, organise a clean up.
The opportunities for positive policing through social media are genuinely exciting. Whether it is through the use of ‘push notifications’ to get people looking out for a missing child, or vouchers and badges to reward people who help reduce crime and keep their neighbourhood safe. The level of general public interest in policing is huge too, and we have opportunites to use the app to show people what crime scene examiners are up to, alongside the police helicopter or police dogs. We’ve discussed all of these things and more as future possibilities for inclusion in the app. Most people I speak to about the app, say “what about….” or “could you include….”
Back to school
In developing the app I’ve had to learn a great deal about social media. Some of my colleagues don’t have the same level of interest, but most agree that it is an area they are going to have to learn about and now is a good time to start. The project has brought me into contact with groups of people that a year ago I didn’t think I’d meet and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m indebted to Multizone for helping bring this idea to life, and also to Vodafone and Huawei for supporting the trial with handsets. I’ve learnt from all of these, but most of all I’ve learnt through comments back from the community and other professionals.
My hope for this application is that it will not only bring together communities and their local police teams, but will connect people who have a shared interest in keeping their neighbourhood safe. The ultimate test is whether or not this helps us to keep crime levels low in Surrey, and maintain the confidence that local communities have placed in their local police teams in an increasing mobile society.