Police and Social Media – where next?

This is the last in a series of posts based on the recent COMPOSITE report on police use of social media across Europe.

Police social media usage is multi-faceted

The COMPOSITE study looked at police use of social media in ten European countries and identified nine key themes, all of which have been subject of posts in this series:


  1. Social media as a source of criminal information
  2. Having a voice in social media
  3. Social media to push information
  4. Social media to leverage the Wisdom of the Crowd
  5. Social media to interact with the public
  6. Social media for community policing
  7. Social media to show the human side of policing
  8. Social media to support police IT infrastructure
  9. Social media for efficient policing

One of the interesting realisations I’ve made in writing these posts is the constant evidence of how British police are leading the way in Europe in their adoption and effective use of social media.

Mike Downes keeps a watching brief on UK police use of social media and found that between January and February this year, there was more than a 10% increase in the numbers of people following police Twitter accounts bring the total number of followers to 1,041,850.

10% in one month from a strong base is something to be proud of.

The West Midlands Police saw a 37% increase and as Mike points out:

“if a private company increased their Twitter followers by 37% in a month or a 1,000 per day in the last 15 days – that employee would get a pat on the back (and a fat bonus).”


Police enter key


Social media has kick-started a new dialogue between the police and the public

The growth of police use of social media seems to be based on two key factors.

Firstly, that senior British police have both promoted the use of Twitter in particular and, more importantly, encouraged frontline officers to develop their own tweeting styles without undue interference (in most cases).

Secondly, the use of social media fulfils many purposes:

  • It’s great for broadcasting information – particularly requests for intelligence.
  • It has enabled police to reach much larger numbers of people with detailed, easy to digest pleas for information – photos of rioters or stolen goods on Flickr, CCTV footage of assaults and robberies on YouTube.
  • Critically, during a global recession, it has enabled police to extend their communications at no cost – in many cases, actually reducing the cost of physical flyers and posters.

But perhaps the most positive outcome has been the way that police have used social media to break down barriers and stereotypes and develop an ongoing dialogue with sections of the community who would often be either uninterested or reflexively antagonistic.

Many examples abound of tweeting cops who have achieved this but you can might like to read @NWPKateParker‘s account of how she engaged vulnerable members of her neighbourhood and how @hantsyotcop has developed an ongoing conversation with local young people.

The fact that police tweeters have been prepared to tweet good and bad news and shared some aspects of police culture and their own personal lives has humanised the police force and made many officers more approacable.

This has increased the confidence and trust that many members of the public have in the police, which post the 2011 riots, is probably the single most important objective of most forces.

Given the continuing growth of social media and the increasingly common use of new technologies (it seems that predictive policing is fast becoming the norm in the USA), who knows what police will be using social media for next?

Ordinary citizens are already using social media to share crime prevention intelligence and conduct their own investigations.

Will we soon see members of the public reporting crimes via Twitter & Facebook, uploading their own photos and videos – including of alleged perpetrators?


Please get in touch if you’re interested in these subjects and would like to write a blog post about them.

In the meantime, why not participate in the global police tweetathon organised by Lauri Stevens of ConnectedCops (@lawscomm).

It’s taking place on 22 March 2013 using the hashtag #poltwt.

Here’s a map of all the police services participating.



Check out Russell’s half day courses on Tweeting for work/business:

Twitter for beginners

Taking your tweeting to the next level


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