I fell into twitter. I had started an account in 2009 to stalk formula one drivers because I realised you get emotion, you saw them in their leisure time, you got to know their thinking, you saw photos, all of which wouldn’t necessarily have been released by their media team. Occasionally some scandal was created by a tweet from a disgruntled driver, how exciting!
My work with Learn2Live where we try to educate young people with road safety by telling personal stories, meant I was asked to record a talking heads video, in case they couldn’t get me or any other officer to tell their own story at a particular presentation. The organisers asked every speaker, including fire, ambulance and next of kin to make a recording and here was mine.
It went crazy to be honest, and I gained some interest on social media so my Force, The Devon and Cornwall Police asked if I wanted to start a new Police Twitter account or whether I just wanted to change my private one. I had no interest in running two, but I thought as I had been in front line policing for 25 years, including Traffic and Armed Response for 20 of those years, I could put something together for a police Twitter account. So I changed my private one to a police one and I was 200 followers ahead already!
Twitter is now considered News, not social media, but it does blend the two of course. I learned fast that although things seemed quite reasonable at the time, that others who had a preconceived idea of what policing should be, were very soon happy to bring you to task. It started when I made comment about the M5 Motorway soon being clear after a suicidal woman was safely removed. I had considered that photo carefully. Ensuring it was a selfie to confirm it was not a library photo of the immense traffic jam, that I wasn’t belittling the poor woman in my text who had ’caused’ the delay, and that the expression on my face was not too smiley, and not too stern. Being satisfied about this I tweeted this and it hit national headlines of Traffic Cop’s Bizarre Selfie
That was August 2016 and I am satisfied that it wouldn’t happen today just 16 months later. The world has changed and it is accepted the public will and can be given instant updates by the police. They like it in fact. It is being accepted more and more that police should be using social media to talk and discuss topics with the public. Personally I believe it’s almost criminal not to. I compare it to walking through an estate and talking to the general public. All ages, all backgrounds. Some read the paper and watch the news. The younger generation tend to look at social media and most news is obtained from platforms such as Twitter. To ignore these, is like swatting the younger generation aside. We need their opinions, we need their information, and their experience. We need to inform them too. We need their honest feed back of their experiences, and of course it wouldn’t be the same as any estate or general high street if we didn’t have our occasional idiot to deal with!
I was only able to win the best Police Twitter account of 2016/17 by being in a Police Force that were so understanding of the developing nature of Police use of Twitter. They understood that the huge majority had proven good, and the odd one was inevitably going to go badly wrong. I worked with my Corporate comms who were being put under some pressure to see how we could prevent these issues in the future. It was important to discuss only topics I was qualified to talk about. Other opinions reflected on the Force, but Mental Health, missing persons and drugs was a grey area, as I deal with these issues most days but am not considered an ‘expert’.
I quickly saw that where as the Force had to have a more corporate account, mine could be more personal. I needed to make that contact with the reader so they found what I was saying not just educational, but interesting and yes, humorous. It interested me there were several users of Twitter who felt it wasn’t a place for officers, just for every other professional body! And their opinion as is of many, was that the officers should spend more time catching criminals than tweeting. Sounds reasonable until you consider 99% of my tweets and most other officers were done from home, as is this blog, and all my other blogs before.
There is a line where good work is being done, and where it starts to become onerous for Police Corporate Comms to deal with Press interest. The inevitable complaint and interest from reporters start to overburden the minimal staff in Press office. I have felt that pressure, and I feel responsible for causing that extra pressure. I also see the changed opinions from the public where they can see what officers do from day to day. They see them being assaulted, spat at, under pressure, tired, cold and wet, when the only means they had before was through a biased media or politicians whose only interest was to cut funds.
I’ve found the spin offs are that the knowledge of each others roles has improved immensely within the Force too. I didn’t show too much interest of what happened in the process after I arrested someone in a domestic dispute. Then I read articles on twitter and followed twitter accounts of the Safeguarding team in my own force. I found out how they were breaking the circle of violence with a room full of experts intervening at every point. The end result being the victim now had the support and confidence to move away from the violence as they felt they had the mental and physical capacity to do so. They had support and safety, and the police were no longer attending their address every week to deal with the assaults on her.
Being in Armed response, it made me learn what response officers were up to again, what successes the Dog units were having, the helicopter were doing, and when we shared jobs, we spoke to each other after them on Twitter for the public to see, we thanked each other… none of that really happened before apart from an occasional thank you email. Bosses know what their officers are doing in the dead of night; They know when one of their Forces officers was injured immediately, they contact the officer the next day, and it means everything. Yes, it boosts morale.
I have had a few nightmares to be honest with you. It is pressure. I do get a lot of grief, I have often thought I wouldn’t have cared if my force had decided to close the account once and for all. But as long as I learn, and don’t do the same mistake again, as long as I am willing to adjust, then it sort of works. The level of followers means I have a little influence on people who have huge influence. I speak to them in person and on private messages including the IPCC now the IOPC, policing ministers and other MP’s. My expertise in my field of firearms and fatalities if you will, means that people of influence look me up for my opinion or for technical accuracy before they themselves write an article on the subject. To change an opinion which has only previously been fed by bad media or politics, is hugely rewarding. That’s what I love most. I couldn’t do that without Twitter.
In the mean time, my force states ‘They do not comment on individual officers tweets’. And that is a comment I suggest all other forces use. I will then speak and clarify anything with the media if necessary. I thank them for that. I thank my Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer for being more supportive than you could possibly believe and I thank my Professional standards department for not taking a knee jerk reaction to some rather lively demands from the public.
I’m not promising the year ahead will be a smooth one, but it will be one where only the best intention is meant.
twitter – @DC_ARVSgt
Facebook – Sgt Harry Tangye Devon and Cornwall Police
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