Police social media officers - what's the point?

What does a police social media officer do all day, and is it of any value? A recent article by The Sun suggests not, and the response to it shows others have their doubts.

What have police social media officers ever done to solve crimes? Quite a lot, argues Gavin Stephens
What have police social media officers ever done to solve crimes? Quite a lot, argues Gavin Stephens

Social is an integral part of how we police and engage with communities. Far from being a waste of resource, social media officers help us to be more efficient in preventing crime and keeping people safe.

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Every day they assist uniformed colleagues to find missing people and trace dangerous suspects – reaching people quicker than traditional methods.

Social media allows us to share information quickly with the right people, and operational colleagues know that this often unlocks a case and prevents further crime.

They’ve become the first port of call for many during emergencies like terror attacks, providing fast-time warnings that help save lives.

We have so many examples around the country of social media making a real difference.
Here are a few:

• Dyfed Powys Police issued an appeal for information about a man wanted for murder. A member of the public saw the appeal and recognised the man. He was arrested, charged and jailed.

• In Surrey the force used Facebook to warn people in postcodes where burglaries were taking place. Officers said this helped reach people who may not have been in when they were making house calls and sped up the process.

• The Metropolitan Police Service launched a campaign that celebrated 100 years of female police officers in the force, with social media playing a key part. The campaign led to a significant increase in applications from women.

Using a range of channels means we can get involved in the conversation.

A survey conducted in 2018 found that 51 per cent of respondents viewed social as their preferred method of contacting police about non-emergency issues; this requires that contact management staff work closely with professional communicators.

Some 90 per cent of respondents also viewed the police as a trusted source of information.

When emergencies happen, these people are turning to police social channels for advice, and then share that advice with friends and families.

During the Whaley Bridge dam collapse, Derbyshire Constabulary (with other services) saw 147 posts shared 21,000 times.

Social media helps build confidence in the criminal justice system. Recently, my force shared bodycam footage of the arrest of a man days after he'd had sex with a 14-year-old girl.

We explained how specialist officers worked with her to gain her trust and then arrest him.

Working in policing is rewarding, but it can also be demanding and fast-paced, with high stakes.

This means police communicators must be prepared to respond to the unexpected, sometimes work unsociable hours and be accountable for any mistakes.

The right people are needed to do the job, and we need to ensure pay reflects their experience.

Policing needs a range of people with different skills and backgrounds doing different roles, but crucially working together for the same outcomes – preventing crime, solving it and keeping people safe.

Gavin Stephens is the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for social media and digital engagement

A longer version of this piece first appeared on the NPCC website

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