HUMAN FACE OF POLICING HAS CHANGED
CONGRATULATIONS to the police in Dorset for posting the most interacted-with Instagram message of all UK police forces in the past year.
They are also in the top six forces for number of Instagrams and the top ten for Facebook work (along with Devon and Cornwall police), against a tough field including giants such as the Met and the entire joined-up Scottish force.
The league table of police social media activity that measures all this has just been released by PR Week magazine and at first glance makes odd reading.
Among the retired cops of my acquaintance there has, indeed, been some muttering. Our police could, really, be out there catching murderers instead of crouching over their phones like a bunch of teenagers.
Just look at those posts. They include a picture of a police dog wearing sunglasses (Dorset), a lost swan being rescued from a housing estate (Wiltshire) and plentiful profiles of police workers from non-traditional backgrounds (Avon and Somerset seem to love doing that).
There are surely other ways for police forces to spend their time and money (other than, of course, nicking me for speeding).
The police did not always care so much about their image. I happened to grow up amongst them, in a police house with a blue door, in the 1960s. My father and his generation of plods had mostly joined up after National Service because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. Few had been educated beyond the age of 15, and their preferred way of communicating with the public was to blow a whistle, shout, or chase them down the street.
But they did come from, live within, and interact with the communities they served. And that was no accident, because when the idea of formal policing was first mooted the biggest fear was that an arm of the state, a branch of the Army, would be used against the population.
Britain would have none of it, and instead set up civilian forces mostly equipped with nothing tougher than truncheons, and wearing the same top hats worn by civilian men (hence the still strange shape of the police helmet today). The police were to be of the people and working for, rather than against, the people.
An Act of Parliament brought about the county forces from 1839: Wiltshire was the first in the country to set up, then Gloucestershire in the same year, with Somerset and Dorset taking another 15 years or so as the old town and borough constabularies became part of the new ‘peeler’ system.
In the meantime, the modern police are both staying true to their roots, and embracing change, by winning the social media game. They are trying to talk to all parts of their communities, using the language and means of those people, and in particular the younger ones.
Ask any officer who they spend most time dealing with, and it’s youngsters – out there, having fun, pushing boundaries, questioning authority, getting arrested. Ask any youngster what makes them feel part of a trusting community and the answer will always include social media – they trust those who share their stories online.
So the police and the youngsters meet on Instagram, which is fast becoming the most favoured social media platform for youths because oldies have moved onto Facebook, making it uncool.
That Dorset police post with the most interactions – a funny video of an officer using his head to break the ice on his squad car window during last winter’s big freeze – is hilarious, and it works because it is human. As does the one of the cop cradling a swan in urban Swindon, and the profiles of the single mother who is a PC, and the detective sergeant with a psychology degree. They could be us, and often are.
Only one image from our forces seems troublesome: a smiling blonde officer tooled up with a huge gun, body armour, militarystyle helmet, and weapons and gadgets hanging from her belt. It’s nice she’s happy in her work, but you would think twice before stopping to ask her the time. She looks like the kind of officer we wish we did not need.
All the more reason, then, for more daft images of police behaving like the rest of us by putting sunglasses on their dogs’ heads and the rest of it, because inside that body armour is a human being just like us after all.
The police are staying true to their roots, and
embracing change, by winning the social