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Guest #6: Less of the anti: police and social media, by Julie

The first thing I realised when I joined this Force was that police LOVE telling stories.

Every meeting kicks off with news of the sad discoveries, ridiculous mishaps and colleagues stepping in to go beyond the call of duty.  Canteens, station corridors and car parks are a buzz of story-swapping, information exchange and chance discoveries off the back of a quick comment.  It’s a fluid, fluent dialogue which doesn’t overstep what’s safe or permissible and, if you come in from outside the organisation, it’s fascinating.

It’s not surprising when so few people have direct contact with police that the same members of our communities crop up again and again and that they develop relationships of sorts with our custody officers, neighbourhood teams and call handlers, that they often know each other by name and have ‘come up through the ranks’ together on either side of the thin blue line.

When you understand the complex, interlinked conversations which happen across police forces every day and with our public, it makes perfect sense that officers and local teams are taking to Twitter and Facebook like ducks to water.  Although the first step for most forces is a corporate account on Twitter - a useful way of getting information out to a lot of people FAST - the real benefits, for us at least, come from the conversations and chat between officers, teams and communities.

Don’t get me wrong - there’s been much wrestling and soul searching as our Force’s command team weighs up the risks and benefits of this form of engagement but the enormous appetite from the public to talk directly to us has clinched the deal.  With hundreds of queries, mentions of intel, pleas for help, complaints and jokes coming in to us every day, social media have become a significant part of how we communicate.  As an officer said the other day with a shrug, “We couldn’t stop even if we wanted to.  We have no exit strategy.”

As well as conversations between officers, staff and the public, the individual accounts held by members of our Force mean an open window into their working and personal lives.  Dip into Twitter at any point during 24 hours and you’ll see admin assistants, chief inspectors, PCSOs and the Deputy Chief Constable wading into (mostly) good natured rivalry between districts as well as discussion about politics and philosophy, local events, music, recipes and running tips.  There’s plenty of heated debate too about changes to policing and what it means for us - none of this was ever mandated from the top but a command team strongly supportive of social media means a degree of frankness and transparency that no corporate communications will be able to achieve.

Inevitably there will be times when something goes wrong - when an officer’s opinions overstep the mark and cause offence - but as ACC Gordon Scobie points out, if he trusts an officer with a baton, why wouldn’t he trust them with a Twitter account?  The letting go of the command and control culture, in communications at least, is one of the most exciting things to happen in policing for a very long time.

@julierainey is employed by Sussex Police but tweets in a personal capacity.  For more information about our social media users, have a look at  http://www.sussex.police.uk/contact-us/twitter/ or  http://www.sussex.police.uk/about-us/sussex-police-people/


Note From Ollie: Thank you Julie, for being my 6th guest blogger. I first came across Julie when i spent a day in the summer of 2011 in awe of Sussex Police's Social Media Day. Since then, i have realised that Sussex Police really have a forward thinking view on social media, and i cant help but get really excited when i find some new feature on their website. It may sound a bit silly to say how excited i am about it, but traditionally police and social media dont mix. The modern view is that the police, and public, hugely benefit from social media...but there are still a lot of entrenched attitudes towards it, and there is a lot of suspicion still surrounding it. Each forward step is a triumph for modern police thinking. So i hugely admire what Julie, and her team, have achieved...it is a great honour to have her as a guest blogger.