Jane Batcheler, @InspBatcheler, is a response Inspector for Sussex Police.
I may not have started my Twitter life for most altruistic of reasons but I’m glad I did.
I’ve always been passionate about the role of the response Police officer – we are first to most things – the fight on Friday night outside the pub, the murder, the car crash – the stuff of television programmes, but we also look for the missing children, return the vulnerable, wandering elderly to their homes and handle the dreaded death messages.
But sometimes it feels like we are the most invisible, despite the blue lights and sirens.
I was moving from a rural to urban response team, back to Hastings where I’d worked before, and I wanted to promote the work that the response team do, to show Hastings that we are out there, 24 hours a day, doing our bit for the people of the town that we work in.
My Inspector at the time of my move had been talking about Twitter, and about how Sussex Police was using it to promote public contact, so I thought:
” Ideal”, got myself a corporate account and off I went.
What to tweet?
I try to get a personal message out at the start of the shift, just setting up the day ahead, and then again at the end, trying to round up the days events but I’ll put out anything I think is of interest to the public, or that the public can help us with – like road closures for car crashes, details of missing kids and descriptions of suspects.
My Twitter use was a bit of a joke to some of my colleagues, thinking it was all part of a corporate plot, but when an elderly, vulnerable missing man was found, as a result of the public awareness raised through Twitter, they started to see the potential benefits – it wasn’t my Tweet, by the way.
But the fact that his description went out to over 1,000 people, through the Hastings Police Twitter account, in a matter of minutes, made them eat their words. I haven’t persuaded them to have their own accounts yet, but I’m wearing them down !
I have been pleasantly surprised at the conversations that I’ve struck up at 3am, during a night shift – from questions on law, to less serious questions about my job. Generally, the Tweets I’ve got back have been positive, with one or two exceptions, and with those that deserve an answer, I’ve given one, and with those that don’t, well, I’ve left those for others to judge.
It was heartening to see the reaction to my Tweet about a recent arrest for racist behaviour, and to the arrest of the drink driver who was 3 times the legal limit.
Occasionally, as with any job, things can start to feel run-of-the-mill and mundane, but the reaction that I’ve had from my ‘followers’ has reminded me that what I do is for the public, and they are a curious bunch. And sometimes, it can feel that the Police can do little right in the public eye, but I’ve seen that we are liked and respected for what we do, and that is a reassuring thing.
Keeping it positive
I keep thing positive which is not always easy, especially after a shift that’s stretched us to the limits, or when the number of officers on the streets has been fewer than needed, or just simply when a job has touched a nerve. Maybe I need to write about some of these things too but I’m not sure how that much honesty would be appreciated.
I try to fit a bit of humour in, if the 140 limit permits, and sometimes there’s a message in there for my team – like the time I spoke of a ‘messy’ incident – only my team know the extent of that ‘mess’ but let’s just say that two officers needed new uniforms, after dealing with a very poorly mental health patient !
I have also been known to publicly thank my team on Twitter for their hard work and resilience after a busy shift - it never hurts to say it in front of a big audience.
The local dimension
Local people can read about local things within minutes - what’s been happening at the end of their road, or in their town, and I think this has been the greatest success of Twitter for Sussex Police - it has made policing more personal, made us more human and approachable, and, surely, that can never be a bad thing.
And as most people now have access to the internet, if not on their mobile phone, then on the home or work computer, it has also enabled people to become involved in their local police force – every extra pair of eyes has got to be a bonus when it comes to looking for that suspect.
If I was going to give some advice to fellow corporate Twitter users, use it to promote the small stuff – the daily successes, ‘cos if you are anything like the Police, we seem to be a little averse to blowing our own trumpet, but be prepared for the criticism, and if you’ve got it wrong, say so.
There’s still some reluctance amongst Police to talk about what we do in a public format.
Officers are worried about criticism, and this tends to stifle the flow of information that we can put out there, but I think Twitter is going a long way to change this.
Next Wednesday: Dr Anne Brunton, Criminal Justice and Organisational specialist, @criminologyUK, on why she tweets.
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