Social web tools for neighbourhood policing

The Virtual Policing blog

Last week I wrote a post about our Virtual Policing project that we’re involved in with Sussex Police. We had a long and productive meeting with the team members and I’ve already started to sketch out some of the thoughts/experiences that came out of the session – in a post here. I thought, though, that it might be interesting to reflect on some of the more specific stuff that came out of the day – in particular a few of the ideas that we had about how to help people to work with their communities using social media.

As I mentioned before, officers are already using Twitter and Facebook to talk to local people. There are lots of differing experiences – and I think it would be fair to say that the majority of the activity at the moment is about letting people know what the police are up to. The next step for us is to see how the social web can help build relationships.

Several officers have already had good experiences in using Twitter, in particular, to help out individuals with the kinds of information that they can and do already share with the public – for example keeping them informed of traffic issues during major incidents. Obviously, this kind of stuff helps to build up trust and confidence with particular police officers. What follows are ideas that have occurred already as a result of the conversations we have had at the meeting last week – rather than things we’ve tried out. Hopefully some of them will actually be useful!

Boosting meeting attendance

An important tool for a safer neighbourhood team is the meeting. These can, in some instances, be poorly attended – and it would be really great to see how attendance can be increased. While Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools can be used to promote meetings, might it also be possible to use a tool like Doodle to find a time for a meeting that more people are able/happy to attend?

Image representing Eventbrite as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Regular meetings could be ‘meetups’ if they’re aimed at a younger audiences – and a tool like Meetup or Eventbrite could be used to organise, communicate about and promote the event.

Sharing information with other agencies – like the council

Neighbourhood police teams can be the frontline for lots of issues that aren’t actually policing. A lot of these are things that need to be passed on to other statutory bodies – in particular local councils. Some of this will be stuff that needs action, but not from the police – like rubbish, vandalism and a host of other issues. ‘Fix My Street‘ allows people to log a problem they’re aware of to a specific place. Councils then have the chance to resolve these issues. It allows the public to track the problem – and see that it’s been dealt with. Police could refer more savvy folk to the tool or even, in some instances, help the public to log problems themselves at meetings.

Telling people where we are (within reason)

As we said above, tools like Twitter and Facebook give police the chance to keep people up to date with what they are doing. But something like FourSquare would allow you to ‘check in’ to certain locations. You could use the data that this creates to report back – offline on the places you’ve visited so that people have a clearer picture of what you’re up to in week. This might not always be practical – and it has to be done sensibly and safely, obviously.

Going beyond the people we can already reach

Obviously, this is what Virtual Policing is about – the desire to form new relationships online with those parts of the population who find it easier (for various reasons) talking through the web than they do face to face. I’m going to dedicate a whole post to this, but the key is obviously finding where these communities collect online – and recognising that people go to different places for different reasons.

Making sure that the online message gets offline, too


An example of a newsletter created from blogs

We might also want to think about ways that online information can easily be brought offline. Adrian Short has designed a tool that allows you to print summaries of blog posts from an RSS feed that might be helpful, for example. It might be possible to bundle up the most important bits of information to share as a PDF newsletter that can be printed. You could even collate local blogs into a newsletter, using a service like Tabbloid that takes RSS feeds and makes them look a bit like a newspaper. This could be shared with those that don’t spend their lives glued to a computer screen!

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  1. nick hibberd says:

    Interesting blog. I’d be interested in exploring ways of improving links between virtual policing and engagement/empowerment of communities with non policing issues including with local government services in neighbourhoods (e.g virtual housing officer).

  2. Andrew Brightwell says:

    Hi Nick,
    That sounds like a very interesting idea – and would certainly be worth exploring with you if you’d be interested. The basic principles of the research would certainly apply outside policing to many aspects of local public services. It might even be possible to explore how different service providers could work together on this sort of thing.

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