Guest Post – PCSOs and Social Media
Social media use in UK police forces has come a long way since I first started writing about it, but despite this there are still many people working in various roles for police forces who are unsure about using it.
This is despite the fact that it can make their job easier, widen their professional connections and deliver force objectives such as reducing crime. This post may persuade you to take the plunge, or if you are already a convert, you can use it to persuade others of the benefits.
So how can it make my job easier?
Public engagement is a key part of the role of a PCSO – the visibility, accessibility and community focus of the role of PCSO are one of the main reasons for forces adopting them. The title says it all – remember that the CS stands for Community Support.
Online engagement is not limited by who you physically meet
The problem is that one person can only engage with an individual or a small group, and passing of complex information to the public can be difficult unless you have paper copies to hand.
Online engagement on the other hand is not limited by who you physically meet, nor is it restricted to just conversation – most social media sites allow you to post links to crime prevention advice, diversionary activities such as youth clubs etc, appeals for information, other useful groups such as Neighbourhood Watch, Street Pastors…the opportunities are really only limited by your imagination.
Ask online followers about their policing priorities
Simple tools like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite can schedule standard tweets with generic information, freeing your tweeting time up for conversations with your community. Use this time to converse about issues that affect the whole community, rather than those who you physically meet, or who bother to turn up to neighbourhood meetings.
Why not ask online for priorities and issues from the public that concern them? These responses can be included with traditional methods to give a more rounded picture of your beat, and therefore enable you to respond more effectively.
So how will it meet force objectives?
There is plenty of evidence for better engagement leading to the public seeing the police as ‘legitimate’. This legitimacy can take the form of respect for the authority of the police (and sometimes PCSOs suffer from a lack of respect more than police officers), but it is also proven to drive up reporting of crime, willingness to act as witnesses, and a willingness to get involved in some way – as a special, as a volunteer, as a member of neighbourhood watch schemes.
All of these areas will feature somewhere in your force objectives…and using social media will make this easier to achieve.
That sounds great – where do I start?
I have produced a series of guides for using social media on my website, including The Social Media Handbook for Police. There are also other guides on my site that cover in more detail the issues of engagement and legitimacy I mention above.
Open an account on Twitter (it’s free) and follow a few key police tweeters to see how they do it. For starters try the following:
- @HotelAlpha9 is a master of using social media as a beat bobby inHarrogate, and getting real results from it.
- @PCSO_Bunker is a social media using PCSO fromLincolnshire, who has had some real success with using social media to engage with the public.
- @ManorArbourPCSO is a South Yorkshire Police – PCSO / cycle officer who makes great use of Twitter to provide community updates and information.
- @GMPHeywood is PCSO Jenny George, from Greater Manchester.
There are loads more – feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section! You can even add your own Twitter feed if you want to gain some more followers. You can also check out onthebeat101’s official Top Ten PCSOs on Twitter here.
For a pretty comprehensive list of all official police tweeters in the UK, have a look at @NickKeane who maintains several lists of tweeting police people at https://twitter.com/#!/nickkeane/lists.
Do a local search on Twitter by entering your town, village, ward or area, and identifying other local users. Follow them, and see who they follow locally, and who is active on local issues – you will be surprised at what is happening online, and how it can influence what you do offline!
But what about the dangers of social media?
Yes there are some issues with social media use – in simple terms however, if you would say it in public to a journalist, then it will probably be OK on social media sites.
Check if your force has a social media policy
You may also want to check if your force has a policy or guidance on social media use (many do these days). If you are old enough to remember the introduction of email to the workplace, you will recall that many of the same scare stories were spread about then…common sense is your friend, and what has served you well on the streets, will almost certainly serve you well on the internet.
Don’t forget, onthebeat101 has other great posts about using Twitter as a PCSO:
- Top Tips for PCSOs on Twitter, for a quick guide on using Twitter as a PCSO
- Story of a PCSO on Twitter, where one PCSO tells how he started using social media and what he thinks of it
- Policing with Twitter
- Interview with Pierre Petrou, who runs the Twitter account for MPS Camden.
About our guest poster:
Justin Partridge has worked in various roles in the emergency services since 1999. His experience includes acting as ACPO coordinator for the use of social media in policing, as well as a senior manager for Lincolnshire Police. His writings can be found at http://partridgej.wordpress.com/, and he is @jiiiii on Twitter.
Headshot courtesy of Justin Partridge.