Popular local Police Sergeant Chris Spellerberg is moving from Eastleigh Central’s Safer Neighbourhood Team to a new posting in Southampton next week. In the two years he has been here, the Eastleigh Police twitter account has grown from zero to 8,000 followers. The bicycling bobby believes use of social media has helped fight crime in the area and has brought the police and the community closer together.
Here he explains why he tweets…
Two years ago I really didn’t know much about twitter and certainly wouldn’t have thought of the social media site as being used for crime fighting! August 2011 I started the @EastleighPolice twitter account, recruited ‘tweeters’ from my team of Pc’s and PCSO’s and we now have over 8,100 followers, many tweeters and our tweets have led to arrests, witnesses responding to appeals for information as well as hopefully sharing life on the beat in a informative, light hearted and warts and all manner.
I admit I had to be convinced, I started following the @PompeyCCUPolice pilot who were trail blazers in using social media and I owe a lot to them. I had some input from our corporate communications department and then got on with it, learning as I went along – what worked, what people liked and what they didn’t. It wasn’t long before I started to see the benefits, we started to recruit followers and followed other proactive police tweeters. We sought advice from traditional and local web based media, a resident crown court judge, the Chief Constable and followers to ensure what we were doing was balanced and well rounded.
So what ‘s Twitter? It’s an online social networking and micro blogging service where text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as “tweets” are posted. Almost one in six people in Britain use it! That’s massive and we wanted to be part of it. Communication is a huge part of our day to day work, face to face and that now continues online.
Twitter’s huge benefit is that we can send a message that’s picked up by a huge amount of people in a short space of time, even before the message is retweeted. You should see the response we get when there is incident where we need the public’s help such as a vulnerable missing person or where there is significant disruption such as a serious collision, or when an aircraft from the National Police Air Service (NPAS) is overhead. Tweets from the beat have become part of the norm for our working day , whether it’s at an incident we’re dealing with, crime prevention advice, a community engagement , where we are on patrol or a result from the court.
“The police are the public and the public are the police.” Robert Peel’s most often quoted principle is even more relevant in the age of social media. Community policing, the cornerstone of our modern police service – i.e. our Safer Neighbourhood Teams, works because of the ongoing relationship between us the public we serve and other key organisations whom we work with on a daily basis and I truly believe that.
The key to community policing is about passionate local officers developing personal, close connections with local residents, workers and even visitors. Tweeting from beat, sharing information about what we are doing in your road, outside your work place, how we are responding to issues of concern in your neighbourhood are often what the public want and rightly deserve to know about. Social media does this.
I guess I’d explain twitter as reading the headlines of your favourite newspapers or a snapshot of people who interest you are up to. It takes 30 seconds to write a tweet, we use our blackberry’s whilst on patrol so we really are sending #TweetsFromThe Beat or perhaps when waiting for the photocopier if we’ve popped back to the station or whilst a cuppa is brewing, its free, fast and gets the message our there quickly without distracting us from our core role. I’ve also found we’ve tapped into an audience who we’d never have traditional contact except for perhaps a 999 call, so that’s a massive bonus.
It’s a tool, a means we’ve used to build trust and a relationship with the communities we serve. It’s not a replacement for traditional ways of engaging, it’s another option, one that I think breaks down barriers and puts a human face to your local policing teams.
And using that friendly and sometimes informal manner help to break down some perceptions of police as being distant and aloof – particularly among young people, where we have a considerable following. For example our hash tags such as #FedsOnPeds and #pcsoBob, #pcsoSam and #Sarge are popular and we have almost virtual personalities but they are of course real people!
But its young and old alike who use and engage with us on twitter from teenagers to followers in their 80’s, reading we’re active in their neighbourhoods must be reassuring so our presence is known even if you don’t see us on your street, yet we’ve been on patrol there moments before. This is particularly important to me with our vulnerable members of our communities, who maybe would not normally pick up the phone or approach a police officer in the street, but feel really comfortable about using social media to communicate.
Admittedly, over the years, we (the police) have perhaps become increasingly in danger or becoming remote from ordinary people. Technology has transformed crime and society alike. We’re now proactively seeking out opportunities to take advantage of available technology in all aspects of our work. Turning around our engagement and twitter is a part of that. We’re not just pumping out bland one way messages, it’s very much about a two-way conversation if that’s what people want to do. There’s no question about not doing it now, it’s part of modern policing.
Of course there are risks involved, we’ve tweeted the wrong thing once or twice, but where we’ve done so we’ve quickly apologised and made amends, its defiantly a learning process. I trust my teams with making critical decisions day in day out, with taking people’s liberty when its necessary so why wouldn’t I trust them with a twitter account?! It’s about using and applying common sense and sound judgement – knowing the Chief Constable is quite likely to read what they’ve written is a good guide! Its positive, rewarding and I really think it works.
Sgt Spellerberg will be replaced by Sgt Mark Brearley later this summer, in the interim Pc Woolridge will be Acting Sgt for Eastleigh SNT.
Eastleigh News would like to wish Sgt Spellerberg every success in his new posting