At a meeting of Cambridgeshire Police Authority’s Scrutiny Committee to be held on Monday the 12th of September 2011 proposals for the authority to start tweeting are to be considered.
A report to the committee titled : Agenda Item 14 – Police Authority Use of Social Media – Twitter has been published in advance of the meeting (PDF).
The report contains proposals for how the authority might use a Twitter account, this section states:
The following topics could form the basis of potential tweets: promotion of press releases with links to our website; re-tweet of APA news headlines or Cambridgeshire Constabulary good news stories; links to surveys hosted on authority and force websites and then links to the survey results; advertisement of engagement events and authority meetings; updates on Police and Crime Commissioner elections; collaboration news and ICV/ staff recruitment
The intent appears to be to use the Twitter account as a broadcast medium rather than a means of engagement and two way communication.
As I don’t think this is the right approach to be taking, and there are a number of other ways in which I think the report and proposals are lacking I am intending to use the opportunity to submit public questions or statements to police authority meetings to make the following points:
- I would like to suggest using Twitter for two way communication, not just for broadcasting information and for re-tweeting as proposed.
- I suggest close collaboration with the @CambsCops twitter account so that key tweets made by the authority get re-tweeted to what, at least at first, will be a wider audience.
- The fact this report is required, and the relevant officers have not felt able to just go-ahead and start tweeting suggests to me there is far too much bureaucracy, inflexibility and lack of encouragement of innovation within the police authority.
- The statistic given of 46% of UK Twitter users being under 35 is of limed use without relating this to the proportion of the force area’s population under 35 if the aim is to determine if Twitter particularly represents an opportunity to target a particular demographic.
Based on data from the Office of National Statistics I calculated that the of the population of Cambridgeshire 43.7% is under 35, for Peterborough the figure is 47.3%, and for the two combined (the Cambridgeshire Police force area) it is 44.5% ( Calculated from Table 9 of the Office for National Statistics’ Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2010 Population dataset. )
The suggestion inferred from the figure in the report, that Twitter particularly “allows the Police Authority to engage with the younger demographic” does not appear to be supported by the evidence given. In fact the evidence provided (which I note there is no citation for in the report) actually appears to suggest that Twitter users reflect the age demographic of the force. The 46% figure appears to have been derived from a poll of just 200 people carried out by YouGov for Prospect magazine. (1,2).
- The report is written in such away which presumes the members of the committee may be so completely out of touch with the modern world that they may not be aware of Twitter. If the report has been pitched at the right level, this too is alarming, and I suspect highlights problems with the way members of the authority are appointed.
- I suggest the account should be used for publicly lobbying, and engaging, with local MPs such as @JulianHuppert, as well as bodies with a role relating to policing and crime nationally such as @the_npia , @CPSUK, @ukhomeoffice , @MoJGovUK , @PoliceChiefs and others. Locally I suggest engaging with local councils and other public service organisations.
- I suggest members of the police authority should be encouraged to tweet individually. This could address the problem of many of them having such a low public profile and being hard to contact directly. The police authority should maintain a “Twitter list” of such tweeting members (only @ShonaFJ at the moment as far as I know), and include Twitter links on members’ profiles on the authority website.
- I would suggest the Twitter account, and other social media accounts, be handed over the office of the elected police commissioner should the transition to a new system for holding the purse strings and holding the police to account be completed.
- Where an agenda item at a Police Authority meeting has generated significant discussion on Twitter or other social media authority I suggest authority officers should report a summary of points made to the meeting.
- The authority should display its twitter feed, and perhaps replies and mentions, on its webpage.
- The authority should prepare itsself to be more responsive to new communications trends in the future, including being prepared to get off twitter and invest efforts elsewhere should users start moving to other communications media.
- I suggest the authority adopt a consistent username across social media sites and the web, perhaps one which corresponds with the cambs-pa.gov.uk domain name the authority uses. CambsPA would be in-line with usernames used by others eg. @SurreyPA , @LancsPA , @SussexPA ,@WarwickshirePA ,@LincsPA and many more. Registering such a name, or names would have been advisable in advance of this public discussion. I would suggest using more formality than has been adopted by the force and not using “CambsCops Authority” or similar and would be happy to hand the @CambsPA and @Cambs_PA twitter accounts to the authority.
- I dispute the claim in section 3.6 of the report that information provided via the @CambsCops twitter feed was reassuring or accurate during the national disorder in August 2011. Information on the, relatively minor, disorder in Cambridge was not provided in real time and queries as to why the force helicopter was present over the Midsummer Common area at the time of the incident did not receive an immediate reply. My personal confidence in the feed as a source of reliable and timely information was diminished, not enhanced, over that period.
One interesting element of the report I noted was a section stating:
The public also sent many messages of support and appreciation to the force through Twitter. These have been used to create displays in canteen areas at HQ and on division for officers and staff.