HU­MAN FACE OF POLIC­ING HAS CHANGED

Western Daily Press - - Front Page - ROB CAMP­BELL:

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

me­dia game

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