Tuesday 1 November 2016

The State of UK Policing on Twitter - a research study

Of all the information in this old school station photo,
I value the wooden bench as the most important - a public
social meeting place, just like twitter
For the last six years, I’ve been following what the Police have been saying on Twitter. This blog has now passed 100 police labels.

What started out as pure curiosity has definitely not gone away, in fact I’m more obsessed than ever.

In that vein, I want to set out a new UK Social Policing Research Stall. I’ve called it The State of UK Police on Twitter as I really have no idea what’s going on.

When I say that, it’s to mean there are thousands of active policing accounts, many run by officers in their spare time. Why are they on twitter? What are they saying and Who are they talking to?

This is the first post in this series, other are looking at Police Public Meetings, Policing Talk (like the podcast I'm working on), Media Production and Mobile.

For me, the data has become very much second place to the human stories. Data does not wake me in the middle of night, data does not bring a tear to my ear and data is not what motivates me.

From the 3,600 or so police twitter accounts that I’m now following, they generate about 500 tweets per hour. That’s 5,000 tweets to read in just a ten hour day.

If each tweet had about 20 words, that’s a 100,000 words or a copy of the novel Wuthering Heights or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (ref).

Of course no human will read this much, it’s impossible. Apply a few filters or hashtags, we get something manageable - but my bet, not with a human quality and I also bet we have lost loads of valuable tweets.

Meet me Half Way .. Twitter is a public platform, not a police platform, so whether you have a viewpoint like mine or you’re a serving officer, or a passionate observer following the theme of public safety - we are all equal.

As a former school teacher, I have something called the 7yr old rule. And that means whatever happens with policing on twitter, I have to explain it in terms a seven year old would understand. 

A child will have limited understanding of policies, politics and corporate structure. In many ways, that’s what makes police tweets so interesting. Many are fun selfies, local awareness or common themes - and the public (whether adults or children) can spot a fake a mile off. 

Every tweet has a reply button - and it would be brilliant to see more accounts using it -- I am lucky, many have got to know of me, and with that comes my currency of trust. 

I work, not as a police employee, not as a reporter or journalist, but as a Educator and Teacher in three areas:

  • Public Safety
  • Community Support
  • Media Production.
Six years ago, I was curious how people moved from analogues to digital. In 2017, this will be a stronger issue than ever before. 

As a benchmark, I believe these quad core phones in our pockets that we can buy for just £50.00 are being so under used it’s untrue (I will cover all about support.google.com and the 115+ services on a separate post).

As a start, I’ve produced a UK Police Twitter Lists datasheet (available as a google sheet and a downloadable pdf). From the UK Forces own lists, we have 2,685 twitter accounts.

You will see one force with 237 accounts, yet others with no published lists. If a seven year old asked, ‘Why have some got so many and others have none?’ .. My answer is, ‘I don't know’ ..’Why?’ Then I would be just guessing on how one force may value twitter so highly when others may not. Or maybe someone running the twitter accounts will need knowledge of what a twitter list does and why it may be needed. Again just guesses, and not good enough answers for our fictitious 7yr old.

Skegness Police to the Rescue.. This displays the beauty of public social media where one account will save a list bigger than all other (2,782 members). And for that I thank you.

However, with that comes a price, in that any list over 500 users seems to be difficult to scroll, read and follow each user. Every time you scroll down a page, you are requesting more data to be sent from the twitter server, loading at about 12 accounts at a time, we have over 200 pages.And that is why it’s a tad hard. No police twitter list is complete it seems. 

What’s in a tweet anyway? I made an animated periscope showing the text, photos, video, live video and moments that’s possible (watch here). I see my work and research as joining up the ‘thought dots’ on helping people comes to terms with storytelling online, while having a little peek into the innovation of tomorrow.

We really are all in this together. Every tweeting officer has something different to bring to the public social media table.

Thanks to the #PolTAwards (as @policeawards on twitter), we have a valuable insight into 48 accounts that have been voted onto the finalists list (see the resource post on this blog).

Another beauty, how one tweet in a foggy Brentwood can be relevant to anywhere, not only in the UK, but globally - thanks PCSO Sarah Kelly, 'Still very foggy in #Brentwood this morning. Stay safe on the roads and remember your lights, amazing how many people forget'.

Public Safety and Policing brings so many common themes to tweet about: #Fatal4, Cyber, Campus, Rural, Domestic Violence, Mental Health, Roads, Airport, Firearms, Dogs and the Vulnerable. Apologies, that list is in no order and does not cover every issue - of course it doesn’t, the job is never done. 

The huge area I’ve left out is News and Breaking News. I have been a citizen independent journalist in my day. It’s quite an easy job, you just look and listen and tell the truth. 

But that is not what’s happening in our sensationalist news sector as I see it. We have keywords in the headline designed to shock and enrage us. That is not what news is for. Again, I have more on that in other posts, especially the brilliant area of Solutions Journalism.

Let’s finish up this post with a few words about Mobile Policing using these phones, namely the Samsung Note 4 (that I’ve seen quoted from a few forces as using). They are a super powerful quad core device. This smartphone is MORE POWERFUL than most desktop or laptop computers.

And of course, any phone, laptop, tablet or desktop will run twitter (if allowed). If one tweet is the thin end of a massive wedge of cheese, then that tweet will trigger a whole avalanche of information (like words, photo, video, links etc).

The beauty and the brilliance will be when they all work seamlessly together. Many years ago I was a terrible ice skater. I went to the new rink every day for a few months. Some days while resting, I watched the figure skaters in the centre of the ice, twirling like ballerinas. I thought nothing of it at the time. My heart was in joining the Ice Hockey team.

Years later I was sat in a dark expectant arena watching Disney On Ice. It was Beauty and the Beast, where at one point the Beast skated with Belle raised high above his head, her whole body supported perfectly by his right hand, strong wrist and his straight arm. The two skated in a circle smiling to the audience as the music rang out to the room sealing the moment. It was seamless and it was perfect.

I can see the same happening on twitter, believe me I can. When I have been truly touched with emotion, it has not been through a photo or video, but the words alone. It feels like you have split in two - I think we have all been there at some point.

The trick will of course be to look, and look deep into those 5,000 policing tweets a day and surface the superstars.

Police ForceTwitter Account24 Oct 1016 on list
Avon Somerset Policehttps://twitter.com/ASPolice83
Bedfordshire Policehttps://twitter.com/bedspolice-
British Transport Policehttps://twitter.com/BTP100
Cambridgeshire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/CambsCops-
Cheshire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/cheshirepolice34
City of London Policehttps://twitter.com/CityPolice13
Cleveland Policehttps://twitter.com/ClevelandPolice-
Cumbria Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/Cumbriapolice26
Derbyshire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/DerbysPolice93
Devon and Cornwall Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/DC_Police145
Dorset Policehttps://twitter.com/dorsetpolice37
Durham Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/DurhamPolice-
Dyfed-Powys Policehttps://twitter.com/DyfedPowys41
Essex Policehttps://twitter.com/EssexPoliceUK195
Fife Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/FifePolice-
Gloucestershire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/Glos_Police-
Greater Manchester Policehttps://twitter.com/gmpolice58
Gwent Policehttps://twitter.com/gwentpolice26
Hampshire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/HantsPolice58
Hertfordshire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/HertsPolice47
Humberside Policehttps://twitter.com/Humberbeat48
Kent Policehttps://twitter.com/kent_police32
Lancashire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/LancsPolice34
Leicestershire Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/leicspolice73
Lincolnshire Policehttps://twitter.com/lincspolice49
Merseyside Policehttps://twitter.com/MerseyPolice28
Metropolitan Police Servicehttps://twitter.com/metpoliceuk253
Norfolk Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/NorfolkPolice33
Northern Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/northernPolice
North Wales Policehttps://twitter.com/NWPolice103
Northamptonshire Policehttps://twitter.com/NorthantsPolice96
Northumbria Policehttps://twitter.com/NorthumbriaPol-
North Yorkshire Policehttps://twitter.com/NYorksPolice107
Nottinghamshire Policehttps://twitter.com/nottspolice57
Police Scotland - 1Apr13+https://twitter.com/policescotland89
Police Service of Northern Irelandhttps://twitter.com/PoliceServiceNI33
South Wales Policehttps://twitter.com/swpolice25
South Yorkshire Policehttps://twitter.com/syptweet35
Staffordshire Policehttps://twitter.com/StaffsPolice50
Suffolk Constabularyhttps://twitter.com/SuffolkPolice23
Surrey Policehttps://twitter.com/SurreyPolice36
Sussex Policehttps://twitter.com/sussex_police104
Tayside Policehttps://twitter.com/TaysidePolice
Thames Valley Policehttps://twitter.com/ThamesVP31
Warwickshire Policehttps://twitter.com/warkspolice31
West Mercia Policehttps://twitter.com/wmerciapolice63
West Midlands Policehttps://twitter.com/WMPolice237
West Yorkshire Policehttps://twitter.com/WestYorksPolice59
Wiltshire Policehttps://twitter.com/wiltshirepolice-

For the record, all 1,300 words, the text of this post were typed on a Maplins Pro Mini bluetooth keyboard into an offline Moto E, sat in the foyer of a University library. On my table, were a Home Bargains Reporter's pad and a Wilko A4 Ruled Lined refill pad, both with scribbled notes. It's not only the police who are going mobile.

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