I had the opportunity to talk to Duncan Cleverley, Hastings District Media Relations Officer, who is one of the contributors of the Hastings Police Twitter account to find out how he’s found using the channel of communication and the role of social media within the law.
Emily: It’s great to see that Hastings Police have recently got involved in using Twitter, what was the reasoning behind this?
Duncan: Hastings Police along with many Districts in Sussex Police have recently started to get involved in social media. A big part of effective Police work is being engaged with the public, listening to them and working with them. Social media connects us with more people and gives us an opportunity to engage with them in a way we couldn’t before.
Emily: You state on your twitter bio that this isn’t a way to report crimes, do you think this may change in the future? e.g. reporting non-urgent crimes / community concerns.
Duncan: I doubt that this will change in the near future, Twitter is more about engagement and being approachable than reporting crime. It would be difficult to report a crime using 140 characters of course. Twitter is also a public forum. We do take reports of non urgent crime via email and of course by phone.
Emily: What were your thoughts on the use of twitter by the Greater Manchester Police? (@gmpolice)
Duncan: I’m sure that all Police Forces are looking to use social media to it’s full potential, it would be difficult for me to comment on another force though.
Emily: How are you currently staffing the twitter channel? Is it all internal or do you have external support?
Duncan: Hastings Police twitter page is currently being updated by 3 trained Officers, and we have support from a media trained staff. We are getting more used to it as we go. Across the force most Districts have at least one Officer tweeting, and many senior Officers do including the Deputy Chief Constable.
Emily: What do you see as the advantages for the police force using twitter?
Duncan: The advantages are clear, better engagement with the public. Hastings have over 600 followers and this grows by about 25 a week at the moment. We get people chatting to us like they would on the street, telling us about things that effect where they live, but also saying they like to feel they can chat to a Police Officer. Twitter is like stopping the ‘bobby on the beat’ for a chat, but the bonus is that he/she doesn’t need to be in your street at the time.
Emily: What are you concerns about the police force / officers using twitter?
Duncan: Very few. Although conveying a relaxed and approachable face while still being the professional face of Hastings Police in 140 characters can be a challenge sometimes. Like texts a short message has to convey a lot and meaning can be lost if you are not careful.
Emily: Have you come up against any negative feedback since launching your twitter channel? If so, how have you dealt with it?
Duncan: I have heard no negative feedback concerning our use of Twitter so far, but we are always open to feedback and encourage it.
Emily: Do you think there is an opportunity for Hastings Police to venture into other social media channels / networks? How do you think these channels would be used?
Duncan: At the moment we use twitter mainly and are looking to use facebook too. Social media is ever changing and the challenge is to keep up.
Emily: What do you see as the key successes and learnings from the use of social media?
Duncan: We are learning all the time, but I think the public are warming to the idea and engaging more and more.
Emily: Do you have strict guidelines you need to adhere to when using twitter or is anyone within the police force allowed to get involved with social media?
Duncan: Officers receive training. Although actually using twitter itself is very straight forward, the Officers who are tweeting have guidance on what they tweet and ideas to help them with their accounts.
I also had the opportunity to have a few words with Christine, who helps in leading the social media team in the East Sussex area. Christine added:
“Sussex Police have been using social media for over a year now to engage with the public, and whilst this may seem relatively late in social media terms, in policing this is quite an achievement! We’re still learning and we’re happy to make mistakes so we can be flexible and adapt to the needs of the public. We’re keen on engagement and customer service and social media really helps us with reaching previously unreachable communities and people.
Our staff are trained to use social media in their roles, which is vital to engender confidence and empower them. For too long, policing has been about prohibitive online behaviour. We aim to turn this on it’s head and embed social media as just another communication tool. It’s been a tricky journey with twists and turns, but being supported in trying new ideas is really exciting and I really enjoy working with staff from across the force to help them work with the public on and offline”.
Have you engaged with the police service using channels such as Twitter? What are your views on the use of social networking within the police force?