It’s a shame the police don’t want to chat about my porn problem

Remember how in 24 things would often get kick started by “chatter”? Yeah, chatter – mutterings on the Internet that something is afoot. In espionage drama (and heck, probably real life spying too) the ‘net is monitored for tidbits of this and that which might fall into a sort of a pattern that tells you there’s a problem.

I’ve heard people say (and you can find writings about this on the Internet) that the police could (do?) use social media for intelligence – that’s basically using chatter, looking for stuff that might mean stuff.

Today a small niggly thing happened on my road. Somebody had been up the road in the night and put a page of a pornographic magazine under the windscreen wiper of every car. On both sides of the road.

It’s nothing overly concerning or bad, just a thing that’s a bit weird and might make for some difficult conversations (imagine getting in your car with the kids and being greeted by cocks. That). I’m not sure “putting porn on a car” is a crime beyond littering even. There are a fair few of my local cops on Twitter, so I thought it’d be a good channel to tip them a wink without going to the hassle of phoning them and making a beef out of it.

Twitter_jonhickman_pcsolove_31
Well, that’s not allowed. 

Twitter_brumpolice_urbanfly_jo
That left me a bit flummoxed really. Surely informal chatter like this is one of the best reasons for police to be on Twitter? Little titbits of information, that might someday land in a pattern. Isn’t that what community policing is supposed to be about? 

You see this thing, that isn’t a crime, suggests stuff even on it’s own. Let’s make some rash suggestions and deductions here but if you take circumstantial evidence you have:

1. Start of school holidays
2. A daft practical joke
3. Happened after 10pm (when I parked my car)
4. Porn

Chances are this was the work of teenage boys. That’s a fair assumption.

Now think about what that means:

1. Local shops aren’t controlling age restricted products very well
2. The local teenage boys are already a bit bored and it’s only week 1 of the holidays

It’s meaningless and harmless now, and I honestly thought it was just a silly jape, but what if the chatter suggests other daft little things are happening? And what if those things start to get a bit worse as the summer drags on? And you’ve missed a chance to get in early and do something? Like investing community support time in youth work and working with the councillors to get more things up and running in the ward?

Or do you just tweet to pump out messages?

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Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org

  • Craig Willis

    Sounds like the response I got from the IT department when I happened to mention in passing that my phone wasn’t working. “You have to raise a support ticket through the right channels to get this fixed.” The fact was that the email server had gone down and no one could access it to send the support desk an email to raise a case.We’d previously been told not to phone cases through as this took up valuable time of the support desk.

  • urbanfly

    I’ve had a long running frustration with the @brumpolice twitter account. They only answer tweets that they want to answer, ignoring anything difficult and churn out the same line ‘call your local station and report it’.There are plenty of great accounts used by the police to interact, these all tend to be individual accounts from PCSOs all the way up to Chief Superintendents but the police’s use of social media fails when it comes to generic force accounts, in my experience. I’m not sure if these force accounts are used by actual police officers, police staff or their PR/Comms teams. What seems to be lacking is an understanding that not every mention of a ‘crime’ (usually minor public order offences/neighbourhood annoyances) warrants a call to a central police phone number to explain to someone where you live, what your name is, your telephone number, what the issue is before you’re then put through to your local station where you go through the whole process again. All we want to do is tell you about something happening in our area.I’m very pro-police, indeed my sister’s a police officer but I think that there’s a real gap in how the police are representing themselves online and the ‘service’ they are offering. I hope that some serving officers reply to this and join the conversation πŸ™‚

  • Anne Marie Cunningham

    I think many public services (including police and health organisations) have been convinced they ‘should’ have a social media presence without figuring out how and why they should use it, and so haven’t thought through if they actually have the resources to manage it.Looking at your twitter stream it looks as if you sent this message to a community officer who was on leave yesterday. The account was monitored by the generic one which doesn’t how to respond to a piece of information like this. We should have realistic expectations I think.In ways I feel it is a pity that the first response to something not going right now is to blog about it, rather than give poor old @pcsolove_31151 a day to get back. It looks like they are trying their best.

  • nicholas butler

    Out of curiosity did you follow up their response by following the recommend route e.g. calling and reporting ? Also did you call your councillor ( its why they are elected so that they can take responsibility for your neighbourhood ) and explain what occured ?

  • Jon Hickman

    A quick update:1. @brumpolice pointed out that they’re not a generic account for Birmingham and that they don’t cover the area where I live: https://twitter.com/brumpolice/status/985162040623759362. @PcsoLove_31151 was, as I suspected, off duty yesterday. She’s back and was pleased to get the info.This is all good stuff, but doesn’t change the overall position that prompted the post which is that it’s odd for the police to want to turn informal reports down. Remember this wasn’t much of a crime, and wasn’t urgent. It would be a waste of resource and time for me to go formally reporting this, but it’s generally helpful for someone like PCSO Love to know. That’s all I was trying to achieve.

  • Anne Marie Cunningham

    Thanks Jon. My interest in this is from a generic public sector point of view. I’ve storified the tweets so hopefully this makes it clearer for all reading.http://wishfulthinkinginmedicaleducation.blogspot.com/2011/08/so-youre-public

  • Jon Hickman

    @AnneMarieI’m very supportive of PCSO Love, and I was trying to be clear about that. I’ve obviously fallen short. What I was saying is that this is the sort of into that helps her do her job and more specifically helps make a case for the sort of work she’s doing. This wasn’t having a go at her in the slightest (I hope she can see that).This also wasn’t a post about being frustrated with a slow response. If I needed a fast response I’d have called the station. I chose twitter to report as I really didn’t want to bog the formal system down with a trivial thing. I realised PCSO Love was off duty and didn’t expect or need a quick response.The point I was trying and have failed to make was that it’s a strange policy to turn away informal reporting of minor niggles – you never know when they’ll be useful.Luckily PCSO Love was pleased to be kept informed. If “no reporting on Twitter” is really a policy, then it’s good that there are ways around that system and that individuals just get on with using whatever tools they have to do their job. So well done and thanks to PCSO Love,

  • Jon Hickman

    @Nick I didn’t do anything else as I was going to wait for a few days to see if the PCSO picked this up

  • Jon Hickman

    Thanks for the storify AnneMarie – and sorry I misread it at first, it does look right πŸ™‚

  • Anne Marie Cunningham

    Hi Jon, If you look back through the tweets you’ll see that the @brumpolice response wasn’t to you at all but to @urbanfly. This was simply a case of crossed wires. This post makes it look as if the @brumpolice reply was in response to yours to PCSO Love when it wasn’t.My point is that public sector organisations and individuals have to be prepared for blog posts like this. That’s all.

  • BournvilleNHT

    I’ve been asked to comment on this blog about police use of social media. As the post says above SM is new to us and there is currently a lot of debate in forces up and down the country as to how best to use it. Some police officers have personal accounts, many anonymous, others use it at work and others like neighbourhood teams have team accounts. The majority of work and team accounts are used to engage with communities, to promote who we are and what we do and officers /staff who monitor them may be on or off duty. Yes of course we do use it for intelligence, but it is not the best of tools to use to deal with individual crimes or incidents. We often don’t know the person tweeting, the location of the incident, what sort of response they may need or expect. There isn’t a guarantee that we will even see the tweet, especially if it is sent to an account with a large number of followers. Monitoring Twitter is only a very tiny part of what we do in our time. It looks like in your case your local PCSO was off duty when she responded. That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have followed it up on her return. The Brumpolice twitter account serves a huge area, all of central and west Birmingham. They can’t possibly deal with crimes/ASB reported vis Twitter. I think their response may have been worded better with a tel number or email address but I’m sure there was no intention to fob you off. Hope this is of help.Isobel Knowles (Sergeant Bournville Ward)

  • urbanfly

    I’d still be interested if anyone from the police/Police Review has something to add to the conversation. It would be very welcome πŸ™‚

  • urbanfly

    We seem to have posted at the same time then, thanks for taking the time to reply Sergeant Knowles :)The police being on social media at all is great, and as I mentioned in an earlier comment individual police/PCSO accounts are definitely the best for engaging with as these individuals see the benefit of 1-2-1 conversation. The larger force, and local, accounts may need to make it clearer exactly why the account exists.

  • nicholas butler

    Okay then colour me confused because as far as I can see the response ( correct administrative procedure ) was to ask you to call and report. Instead you blogged and twittered and waited for another response. I have seen this occur before http://paynestake.com/it-all-started-as-harmless-fun Again the police quite rightly said “please call and log it” and again people blogged and twittered about it. Should we expect the police to start reacting to every overheard comment or directed question relating to possible criminal activities ? Do we really want to expect the need to have the police monitoring our content with the view to deciding if they need to act ?The correct response; the one the police are currently best suited to respond to , is to “call and report”. When did we all loose sight of this procedure ? Until we have invested time , money , practice, awareness and process into enabling a police force that can use the internet as a means of logging a call by way of people making passing comments then we are just as responsible for nothing happening and cant blame the police for not reacting.Nicholas Butlerparish councillor – north horsham general loudmouthman – the internet

  • brumpolice

    Is it possible to ammend the two boxes with our comments in at the top? I ask this as the way this has been posted makes it seem like our response was directly relating to your post when in fact it was a response to a seperate question from another Twitter follower.Thank you

  • Jon Hickman

    Good points @BuurnvilleNHT re. stuff that might be missed, and thanks for the thoughts. I guess in this instance the original comment was directed to a bobby as an @ so it’s not relevant to my tweet, but is more generally.

  • Jon Hickman

    @BrumPolice and @AnneMarie – yeah sorry there was a lack of clarity that there were a few tweets between those. The whole point of the post though, really, was that your advice specifically suggested that what I did was unhelpful and shouldn’t be done. They were part of the same conversational thread so I stand by putting them in the post like this. I’ve been sure to clarify that you don’t work with my PCSO in Erdington, but really none of that needs to change the flow of the blog post IMHO.

  • Anne Marie Cunningham

    @Jon There certainly was a lack of clarity. When I replied first I thought this was a direct response to your tweet and it wasn’t until I had gone through the tweets myself that I understood what had happened.I think it would make a lot more sense for you to edit this blog post to make clear what several of us have pointed out to you. But it is your choice of course.

  • Jon Hickman

    @Nicholas – sorry for the confusion, it wasn’t a blog post to prompt a response related to a complaint, but a blog post aimed to unpick whether or not informal reporting was kosher and useful. The PCSO was pleased I’d done it, I was pleased someone had the info… BrumPolice are still telling me I mustn’t do it, but they themselves pointed out that they have responded to this stuff before.http://digbeth.org/2011/06/brumpolice-resolve-racist-graffiti-problem-on-brad…So where I was coming from was: a crime hasn’t been reported, but that doesn’t mean that someone shouldn’t know about it.I recently had to report an iPod as missing because security at the University told me to. It was old old kit, university property that was so old as to be written off the books and we just can’t find it. Suddenly following a procedure at the uni triggers admin for our security team, then I have to report it to the police, and that takes three calls where I’m tying up police time while reports are written and filed, crime numbers are generated. Then that goes to the uni, into a system that generates yet more paperwork. I felt like a right pain and it’s all over an item with no commercial value that might yet show up.I don’t want to be that guy, but I want to be helpful too.Hope that explains the motivations a bit more.

  • Anne Marie Cunningham

    @Jon This is my last word on this- promise. You still don’t seem to understand that @brumpolice were replying to @urbanfly, They have stated that they were not aware of your origical tweet. In that sense they could not have been advising you not to take the action you did take because they weren’t aware of what you had done.It was a misunderstanding. That’s all.

  • Jon Hickman

    They clearly said don’t report stuff via twitter (per the post).They then showed me how they’ve responded to stuff via twitter.And told me again never to report anything via twitter

  • Jon Hickman

    [I’m on leave so I won’t be answering comments for a bit]

  • brumpolice

    This is certainly an interesting debate and one that will probably grow as social media continues to gain momentum exponentially.We discourage people from reporting via twitter as there are official protocols in place to help us manage reports. Had we seen your original post, it is highly likely we would have emailed the local nh team to go out into that road.However, if we were on annual leave (much like the officer) or started to receive hundred of reports, this would not be managable and you, as a member of the public, may feel you are not being listened to, or worse still, that we are not acting on your concerns!NOBODY should ever feel they are a pain by calling the police and creating ‘creating paperwork’. If it matters to you, then it should matter to us and it is our job to deal with any reports accordingly.If it is reported there is more accountability for our response and it may also help us uncover a bigger problem etc.I hope this comment proves helpful. We will continue to share messages and useful crime prevention advice through our twitter page on a daily basis.Thank you