On Friday 18th January 2013 there will be an event at Bramshill Police Training College, Hampshire, led by DCC Gordon Scobbie of Tayside Police, the ACPO lead on Social Media issues, and ACC Sarah Hamlin of the Norfolk Constabulary.
The event, which is being run by Nick Keane, Digital Engagement Business Advisor with the College of Policing, has been arranged to discuss openly and look towards trying to establish a common Code of Practice and provide advice and better clarified information for police officers and staff using Social Media, both officially and unofficially, primarily Twitter and Facebook.
Present will be DCC Scobbie and ACC Hamlin, along with several other ‘official’ police tweeters & bloggers, representatives from the Police Federation, a couple of high profile non or former police officers that blog and tweet, and lastly but not leastly from the anonymous police blogging world, myself and @TheCustodySgt.
So why have we suddenly decided to ‘out’ ourselves so to speak, and attend this event, against all the suggestion and speculation from others online that the moment we walk through the doors of Bramshill, we will be pounced on by whichever Complaints & Discipline Department they’ve managed to rope in for the purpose, chucked in the Tower of London and never be seen again ??
I can only speak for myself, but from my point of view, its a simple matter that Social Media policy throughout police forces across the UK varies and for the most part is a great big mess. There are some very good examples of police use of Social Media – the various Greater Manchester Police divisions, and of course @SolihullPolice being those that immediately spring to mind, but of course there are other areas where it is painfully awful or non-existent.
At the present time, who can ignore the massive positive impact that @SgtGaryWatts from Devon & Cornwall police has had. From rising to a silly challenge on Twitter, to being overwhelmed by the result, to being a man of his word and doing exactly what he said he would … but not only that; by combining his ‘fate’ with a chance to help a little boy in need who many of us interact with on Twitter, roping in a few of his colleagues and mates, and producing the ‘#GangnamPoliceman video, Sgt Watts has done far more for the positive image of Devon & Cornwall police in a couple of weeks than many years of official waffle would ever achieve. And then there’s the small matter of thousands of pounds raised for a worthy cause into the bargain.
For my own part, and for a much less cheerful reason than Sgt Watts, #CoverForGMP changed in an instant the whole perception of how police on Social Media were seen and perceived. That from one little tweet during the lowest of low times in the recent history of the British Police Service, thousands of people rallied to show their support for their colleagues in Greater Manchester, and also for the people of the city as well, and on two cold days in October, more than a thousand of them made that solemn journey to line the streets of Manchester City Centre to say goodbye to two fallen policewomen, epitomises the good power that police use of Social Media can have.
Officers are also using the same communication methods daily now, in crime appeals, missing people enquiries (the Social Media based response to the #FindTia and #FindApril appeals was massive) and in many other ways to engage and communicate with their communities, often allowing members of the public to interact with their local police officers on on the ‘same level’ for the very first time.
But police officers do have to be careful. Very careful. We are entrusted with a lot of highly sensitive and very personal information. It is vitally important that such information it treated with the care and consideration it deserves. But this shouldn’t stop officers speaking out when something is clearly wrong. They just have to be careful not to ‘cross the line’.
And therein lies the problem. The line moves, or in many places does not exist. Or moves after something has been said, and retrospective attempts are used to hold one or another officer to boot ‘after the event’. That, to my mind, just isn’t fair, right or proper.
So what can we do about it ? We need a clear set of groundrules; the same for everyone, everywhere; and ones that clearly tell people what they can and cannot say, and where that line is that can’t be crossed. I don’t doubt for one moment that at times, I’ve come very close to that line in some peoples minds (and parts of the country), yet in others I will have been nowhere near. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere else equally thinks I’ve crossed the line, certainly if I have it’s been without intent as I try very hard to make sure I stay within the boundaries …. close to the edge maybe, but within nonetheless. But if I haven’t got a clue, and I try and be very careful and check things purposely, then what chance will the next man or woman have ?
And that’s why I’ve agreed to attend the meeting at Bramshill. Simply because I’ve been invited, that I’m aware that my thoughts and input will be considered and more simply, if I, and others in a similar position, don’t take the chance to engage when it’s offered, don’t use the opportunity given to put forward our ideas, our thoughts, our concerns, and also those of others not able or fortunate enough to take part, we are not in a position to complain when things don’t go how we want.
We may achieve very little after the event – but I hope we achieve a lot. either way, at least I (and I assume @TheCustodySgt) will be able afterwards to stand proud and say “AT LEAST WE TRIED”.
And to the comment that has been made, asking if we had ‘sold out to protect ourselves’ the answer is a big fat NO. We were indeed offered a certain amount of anonymity to attend the day but both myself and @TheCustodySgt have made our respective Senior Officer Teams aware of our attendance and are both attending with their approval.
Therefore we have advised the organisers that we will be there ‘as ourselves’ so to speak. We have not ‘cut a deal’ and remain subject to the same discipline rules as everyone else but are willing to act as a conduit or ‘go between’ for anyone else who wishes their thoughts to be known.
Ohh, and I for one am hoping they have some sooopa dooopa choccy biccies on offer during the break time !!