Superintendent Mark Payne, @SuptPayneWMP, one of the first police officers to pioneer the use of Twitter to engage with local communities, writes about why he tweets.


Communication with the public is critical for police

The general public are without a doubt the single biggest asset available to police officers as we try to prevent and detect crime and keep people safe. Whether we are investigating a murder, dealing with public order or walking the beat keeping a community safe and re-assured, the way that we communicate with people, and critically, the opportunity for people to talk back to us, is crucial.

I have been an advocate of police use of social media for some time now. Policing can sometimes be a difficult area to innovate in. We are beholden to years of experience and best practice and also bound by legislation. When social media first came on the scene, the police response largely fell into two camps. The first was to ignore it in the belief that it was a fad and would soon fade away, and the second was to see it as a threat, where tweeting officers would inevitably say something that would embarrass the force or cause a court case to come crashing down. At the time I was head of corporate communications in West Midlands Police and we took a different view, deciding to take the plunge into the social media arena and see how we got on.

Although we have suffered some set-backs along the way, as things inevitably went wrong on occasion, on the whole we have enjoyed a great deal of success through our social media channels. We have now established some tried and tested principles, and use social media in almost every area of policing. I have worked very hard in Wolverhampton, which is the area I police to build links within the local social media community. During the riots last year, I was able to use social media to speak directly to the communities in Wolverhampton, and let them know what was going on, and to dispel rumours before they gained traction. In the aftermath of the riots, we received lots of positive feedback about the use of social media to update people and allow them to talk directly to us.

[For a detailed account of Superintendent Payne’s use of Twitter during the riots, see his blog post.]

Two-way communication

The real strength of social media for me has always been the way that it allows two way conversations with people. Policing communications have traditionally been all about broadcasting our messages at people. Social media allows people to talk back to us, express their concerns, or raise the issues that affect them. Anybody who is on twitter can talk directly to me and ask me about policing. If you contrast that with the layers of the organisation that you would have to battle through to speak to a Superintendent through our normal systems, it becomes even more appealing to the public.

As the social media landscape becomes engrained more and more in people’s everyday lives, it is inevitable that policing will have to change to accommodate it. Witness appeals, locating missing people, traffic updates, court sentences and key arrests are now routinely put out through our Twitter and Facebook accounts. I will continue to use Twitter to update the people of Wolverhampton on events and incidents in the City and talk to them about policing in general across the area.’


Next Wednesday: Fergus McNeill, @fergus_mcneill, leading academic on desistance – how and why offenders give up committing crime, on why he tweets.


Get Russell’s free guide to Twitterfectiveness.

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