Saturday, 4 December 2010

Mobile barcodes

I am one of a growing number of people who own a smartphone and it has the ability to use the camera to scan a barcode which then links to a webpage.  I thought this is worth passing on as it could be a useful addition to use in printed media.  The website is and here is a barcode I generated for free.
a barcode for
Could be useful for things link witness appeals or wanted people.  The posters could be produced with the barcode to be scanned and the webpage gives the full details, photos and a form to report intelligence.  It allows posters to do what they do best - be eycatching and impactive and it allows the website to do what it does best - provide an unlimited quantity of supporting material on demand with resources that a poster cannot provide (video, audio, interactives, forms, downloads).

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Halloween posters and pumpkin patrol cars

Well I think we made it through without getting the dreaded knock from witches, ghouls, ghosts and vampires this evening.  I spent some quality time trawling through all the UK police websites, picking out all the halloween advice - specifically the 'no trick or treat' posters. I did this because in the past, there have been suggestions that money could easily be saved if police forces collaborated on seasonal campaigns like Christmas, drink-driving, Halloween and fireworks.

26 forces host 'no trick or treating' posters with 10 offering posters for shop owners regarding flour and eggs with 9 offering 'we welcome trick or treaters' posters.

There is a definite north/south divide with most forces in the south offering some sort of halloween advice. Many northern forces don't offer similar advice with none of the Scottish forces offering anything at all.  If I get time, I'll add in a UK graphic to illustrate this.

So take a look at all the posters and see what you think.  My view is that they are all very similar and there need only be one poster designed for all forces to use. It would be possible to leave a space for a force crest and message at the bottom if that is important.  By pooling resources for posters, there would be additional budget available for supporting material which is not normally an option for many forces - video, audio and game resources could also be shared.  Listed below are some innovative ideas I came across which could also be scaled up for national use.

Surrey Police - Pumpkin patrol car
Competitions (Essex, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire, West Mercia)
Video (Essex, Thames Valley, Nottinghamshire)
Radio adverts (Surrey)
Schools resources (Northamptonshire)
Screensaver (Essex)
Pumpkin patrol car (Surrey)
Colouring sheets (Essex, West Mercia)
Halloween webchat (Leicestershire)

Apologies if I have missed out any innovative halloween initiatives - please comment with any additions and I'll update! There are perhaps many other ideas which would become practical opportunities at a national level - maybe TV adverts, high-profile launches, celebrity endorsements, cinema adverts, flash games, smartphone apps . . .

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Web forms - make it easy

In my years as a web developer I've spent an awful lot time building web forms.

The biggest thing I've learnt from this is User Interaction - UI.

The problem I've found is size. Working within the public sector - Police, every department seems to want to know everything and wants to know it depth.

So they come to me for a web form. The quest for instant knowledge and information inevitably means the form will be massive, be five pages long and take 15 minutes to fill out. STOP!

Online forms that are oversized just won't get filled in. People want to do things quick and snappy. Not go through a myriad of 'open' text boxes. Incidentally open text boxes being one of the biggest problems.

A lot of online banking is quick and easy these days. This is because it's easy for the user to do. You log in, move some money around (maybe), look at a few other things and then you're done. You may say that's different because that's a service and not a form. The thing is though is the service is made up of lots of little forms and there's the key - lots of little ones.

Appreciated public sector organisations need to know a lot of detail but it's how they go about getting the user to give them that information.

From my experience I've come up with these tips:

Overall size

Consider the overall 'screen size' of the form. Ideally the form wants to be contained on one screen - as in you can see the whole of the form on the screen of a standard desktop monitor. (Obviously laptops, netbooks, mobiles etc will vary greatly but you have to have a common base somewhere.) If the form is getting bigger than this you might want to ask - do we really need to know all we're asking. This also leads onto questions to do with bureaucracy and forms - scope for another article.

If you do have to go down the more than one page route then I would recommend paging the form. Split the form up into sizeable chunks that break and continue at natural points. Also let the user know, at the start how many pages there are to go through. Then as they go through each page let them know their progress by way of a breadcrumb at the top of the form. Just an idea.


No text in the form other than the labelling of fields. Add somewhere else but not in the entrance. I don't want to have to read through everything then fill out the form. This information should be optional to read. Forms should be intuitive enough so the user knows what they're filling in just by looking at it, the title and the environment it's in. Explanations for fields for example should neatly sit under links within the form - not explanations actually in the form.

Open text boxes

Loose as many of these as possible. They are a nightmare for the user. This is one of the most off putting aspects of a large form. You're giving the user simply far too much to do.

Look at giving the user the answer you want in dropdown menus, radio buttons and check boxes. This is far smarter and dramatically reduces the size of the form.

There maybe some 'word smithing' needed here as to how to ask the question.

Error handling

A good form normally has some validation for what's being entered. This is normally for either/or security reasons and we want to for example know that the email address entered at least looks like an email address.

The user however shouldn't need to know any of this. If the user enters data into a field incorrectly they should be politely told they are wrong. Not given pop up alert boxes, error codes and statements of how wrong they are in bold red. Something quick, simple and not in your face should suffice.

That's about all I can think for now. I'm by far no means an authority and am open to comment and suggestion on these points.

Final note

There are many online forms that I've made that don't comply with what I've said above. Some of these are older forms and sometimes you can't help it. Sometimes you're simply told that's how it has to be. However I would always argue (now - didn't a while ago) that the information we're getting our public to give us is very precious. We don't want to make it difficult or put them off.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Communication Teams and the Public

Bloggers VS Press Office Session
Having taken part in a session entitled 'Press Office vs Bloggers' at the recent #HyperWM event at Walsall College, and the 'Tweets' since the event, I have decided to write this blog to capture the issues and what can be learnt.
It was obvious from the start that there was going to be polarised opinion within the session between the bloggers in the room and the press officers representing their organisations. I will try to list some of the issues as I saw them.

Change in communications
The crux of the matter seemed to be this:
The bloggers felt they weren’t getting responses to their questions from the press officers. The press officers felt that they were there to push organisational information to the media, not individuals, be they bloggers or not.

I believe that while organisations still need to use the conventional methods of communication through the media, times have moved on from 10 years ago when this was the primary form of communication. Due to the opening up of  web communications through social media tools such as Twitter and Blogs, members of the community have arguably become just as important as the media. We should surely therefore respond to questions from the community as we respond to those from the media.

It is not acceptable in today’s communication world to ignore these digital engagement channels. In fact we should embrace these as people who follow bloggers and Twitteres are those actively reading posts being pushed out and are therefore a more willing audience…  A Direct Marketing campaign  is successful  if  it achieves a 3% return . Using digital channels I would expect this to be very much higher.

Lack of information
Another concern from the bloggers was that often they can’t find the information that they wish to communicate to their readers. They are happy to research the organisation’s website to find the information and then to compose their article themselves – they are not necessarily looking for the press office to write the article for them! They may seek to get a perspective from the organisation to add to the article.

The concern is that they are often thwarted as the information is not within the website; or if it is, it’s not easily available and difficult to search for. Public Sector organisations are obliged to publish information through the Public Scheme (link). As the Publication Scheme manager for my organisations, I personally feel that organisations should try to provide more than just what is required under the scheme.

Therefore Publication Scheme managers, Communications managers and Web Managers must try to provide as much information as possible through the website for the public. This is not only for the Bloggers but general members of the community to link to in Tweets or to read on the website itself!

Bloggers can be positive
In the session it was suggested that Bloggers are negative about organisations and therefore this is the reason that they are not being engaged. There were a number of bloggers within the session all of whom stated that they are fair in their articles – if sometimes a little persistent! They want to work with the organisations to help them get the information to the local people that they 'represent'. To do this they need a meaningful conversation with the press office team.

A press officer for a local government organisation stated that they are there to communicate and provide information to the media and not the bloggers. I don’t think that bloggers can blame the press officers themselves as they are working within the guidelines set out for them by the organisation. Therefore the issue I think is more to do with lack of understanding by those leading communications within these organisations -  the way people receive their information has changed – people will view TV programmes when they want to (SkyBox, iPlayer etc), will get news information through feeds from multiple sources and Twitter, etc.

Therefore in my opinion if the press office embraces the fact that bloggers can help get the information out to the communities this can be a positive thing for the organisation. As a good friend has mentioned "Press Offices are like Life on Mars - still in the 1980's".

Other Blogs on this session
Dead Badgers (A Post About Council Press & Communication Offices) -- Mike Rawlins
‘Making it findable’ – the creed of the hyperlocal blogger -- Podnosh (Paul Bradshaw)

I would also suggest the following: New Rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly by David Meerman Scott

Note: Photos courtesy of HyperWM

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

List of Police Force and Police Authority Twitter Accounts

Following is a list of the police force and police authority official Twitter sites.

Police Forces - England, Northern Ireland and Wales

Avon & Somerset Constabulary:

Bedfordshire Police:

Cambridgeshire Constabulary:

Cheshire Constabulary:

City of London Police:

Cleveland Police:

Cumbria Constabulary:

Derbyshire Constabulary:

Devon & Cornwall Constabulary:

Dorset Police:

Durham Constabulary:

Dyfed Powys Police - Heddlu Dyfed Powys / Heddlu Dyfed Powys:

Essex Police:

Gloucestershire Constabulary:

Greater Manchester Police:

Gwent Police - Heddlu Gwent / Heddlu Gwent:

Hampshire Constabulary:

Hertfordshire Constabulary:

Humberside Police:

Kent Police:

Lancashire Constabulary:

Leicestershire Constabulary:

Lincolnshire Police:

Merseyside Police:

Metropolitan Police Service:

Norfolk Constabulary:

North Wales Police - Heddlu Gogledd Cymru / Heddlu Gogledd Cymru:

North Yorkshire Police:

Northamptonshire Police:

Northumbria Police:

Nottinghamshire Police:

Police Service of Northern Ireland:

South Wales Police - Heddlu De Cymru / Heddlu De Cymru:

South Yorkshire Police:

Staffordshire Police:

Suffolk Constabulary:

Surrey Police:

Sussex Police:

Thames Valley Police:

Warwickshire Police:

West Mercia Police:

West Midlands Police:

West Yorkshire Police:

Wiltshire Constabulary:

Police Forces - Scotland

Central Scotland Police:

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary:

Fife Constabulary:

Grampian Police:

Lothian and Borders Police:

Northern Constabulary:

Strathclyde Police:

Tayside Police:

Police Authorities - England, Northern Ireland and Wales

Avon & Somerset Constabulary:

Bedfordshire Police: 

British Transport Police:

Cambridgeshire Constabulary:

Cheshire Constabulary:

City of London Police:

Cleveland Police:

Cumbria Constabulary:

Derbyshire Constabulary:

Devon & Cornwall Constabulary:

Dorset Police:

Durham Constabulary:

Dyfed Powys Police - Heddlu Dyfed Powys / Heddlu Dyfed Powys:

Essex Police:

Gloucestershire Constabulary:

Greater Manchester Police:

Gwent Police - Heddlu Gwent / Heddlu Gwent:

Hampshire Constabulary:

Hertfordshire Constabulary:

Humberside Police:

Kent Police:

Lancashire Constabulary:

Leicestershire Constabulary:

Lincolnshire Police:

Merseyside Police:

Metropolitan Police Service:

Norfolk Constabulary:

North Wales Police - Heddlu Gogledd Cymru / Heddlu Gogledd Cymru:

North Yorkshire Police:

Northamptonshire Police:

Northumbria Police:

Nottinghamshire Police:

Police Service of Northern Ireland:

South Wales Police - Heddlu De Cymru / Heddlu De Cymru:

South Yorkshire Police:

Staffordshire Police:

Suffolk Constabulary:

Surrey Police:

Sussex Police:

Thames Valley Police:

Warwickshire Police:

West Mercia Constabulary:

West Midlands Police:

West Yorkshire Police:

Wiltshire Constabulary:

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Twitter - followers September 2010

Click graph to enlarge
This graph shows the number of followers during August compared with September for English and Welsh police services.

As can be seen from the graph, police services are getting an average of about 100 extra followers each month.  Previous research showed that only about 50% of these are local businesses and public so this reduces the average to 50 relevant followers per month.

Key stats for September 2010

4,268 extra followers for September
34,480 followers in total
3,098 tweets in September
30,736 tweets in total
3,618,144 messages delivered in September

Monday, 27 September 2010

Fun with metadata

Many – possibly all of us – have long lists of police officers on our websites, mostly those attached to Safer Neighbourhood Teams. They’re a pain to maintain – but our usage stats show that members of the public do find them useful.

Here’s one of ours:

I’ve always felt the way we published ours was a bit unsophisticated. Essentially, each officer is an article managed and rendered by our content management system, but there’s no way to extract any meaningful information from the profile other than by manually copying-and-pasting.

In an effort to improve this, I spent a few hours rummaging around in our officer “contact” template. We use GOSS iCM, and our contact template looks something like this:

<h2><!--#Contact[CONTACT.NAME.TITLE]--> <!--#Contact[CONTACT.NAME.FIRSTNAME]--> <!--#Contact[CONTACT.NAME.LASTNAME]--></h2>

<div class="label">Address:</div>

<div class="value"><!--~Contact[Address]--></div>

I’ve cut it down for simplicity, but you get the idea. The things like #Contact[CONTACT.NAME.TITLE] are variables that the CMS reads from the individual officer article itself.

If the user views the page source, the HTML looks like this:

<h2>PC Ed Rogerson</h2>

<div class="label">Address:</div>

<div class="value">Harrogate Police Station North Park Road Harrogate North Yorkshire HG1 5PJ United Kingdom</div>

So the CMS knows that #Contact[CONTACT.NAME.TITLE] must be a rank (PCSO, Sergeant, whatever). But once the page is rendered into HTML, that “semantic” information is lost. The web browser just sees it as plain text (“PC” in this case).

What we want, is some way to tell Google (and any other web services that are interested) that Ed Rogerson is a named person, with the rank of PC, who works at Harrogate Police Station.

Google recently started incorporating “semantic” data into its search results in certain circumstances. Do a search for Tamara Drew ( and look for the IMDb result, but don’t click on it. You’ll see that Google has worked out who the director is, who the actors are, and even the average viewer rating.

This information is generated automatically, via metadata – and we can use exactly the same principle to tell Google more about our officers.

(Crime mapping was before my time, but I understand that some of the more advanced forces also populate with team data via XML. This is basically the same principle, but I don’t think it is a consistent standard that is any use outside of TeamDB).

By adding metadata to our officer contact list, we can add useful information such as an individual’s contact phone number, even beat ward. One day – we’re not there yet! – a user could type their street name into Google, and it would bring up their local officer (not simply because that street name appears in the officer’s profile, but because it knows the geographic location of their beat).

The good news is that adding RDFa metadata is pretty straightforward. Using our code above as an example, here is the rendered HTML:

<div xmlns:v="" typeof="v:Person">

<h2><span property="v:title">PC</span> <span property="v:name">Ed Rogerson</span></h2>

<div class="label">Force:</div>

<div class="value"><span property="v:affiliation">North Yorkshire Police</span></div>

<div class="label">Address:</div>

<div class="value"><span property="v:address">Harrogate Police Station North Park Road Harrogate North Yorkshire HG1 5PJ United Kingdom</span></div>


The first div tells the browser that there is metadata on the page. Then each piece of information (rank, name, address) is marked with a span property in a tag. I also added an “affiliation” property in there, to tell Google that the individual works for North Yorkshire Police.

You can easily see how this works in the real world via Google’s Rich Snippets Testing Tool. For example:

Ignore the breadcrumb stuff (although that’s quite clever too) and you’ll see that Google now recognises Ed as a human being with the following information attached to him:


title = PC
name = Ed Rogerson
affiliation = North Yorkshire Police
address = Harrogate Police Station North Park Road Harrogate North Yorkshire HG1 5PJ United Kingdom

This is all pretty new – if I had more time, I’m sure I could do a lot more with it. And at the moment Google is only using RDF in very specific circumstances, such as reviews, business directories, that sort of thing. But it does look likely that they will expand it in the future. There’s lots of useful documentation here:

In short: assuming you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty with some fairly simple HTML, adding metadata is a really straightforward tweak that will – in the not too distant future – make your police officer databases much more useful.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Facebook - police force pages

People who like official UK police Facebook sites - September 2010

Tonight, I thought I would post up the links to the police force pages on Facebook, including some organisational pages Facebook have put up for some police web services.  Most of the content for these organisational pages seem to be sourced from Wikipedia. There are 26 official force sites at the moment.

City of London (page, 11 people like this)
City of London (organisation, 50 people like this)
City of London (company, 1 person likes this)
City of London (interest)
Metropolitan (organisation, 213 people like this)
Metropolitan (company, 2 people like this)
Metropolitan (organisation, 3 people like this)
Metropolitan (topic, 1 person likes this)
Bedfordshire (official site, 3675 people like this)
Bedfordshire (interest, 1 person likes this)
Bedfordshire (abuse site, 12 people like this)
Cambridgeshire (company, 1 person likes this)
Essex (organisation, 93 people likes this)
Essex (company, 11 people like this)
Essex (fan site of training centre choco milk drink, 196 people like this)
Essex (special constabulary, 1 person likes this)
Herts (official site, 2199 people like this)
Norfolk (organisation, 4 people like this)
Norfolk (official site, 625 people like this)
Suffolk (organisation, 41 people like this)
Suffolk (official site, 891 people like this)
Hampshire (official site, 1121 people like this)
Kent (company, 19 people like this)
Surrey (organisation, 13 people like this)
Sussex (organisation, 113 people like this)
Thames Valley (official site, 2781 people like this)
Thames Valley (company, 67 people like this)
Avon and Somerset (official site, 1278 people like this)
Devon and Cornwall (official site, 459 people like this)
Dorset (organisation, 9 people like this)
Gloucestershire (official site, 711 people like this)
Gloucestershire (company, 7 people like this)
Wiltshire (official site, 496 people like this)
Derbyshire (official site, 435 people like this)
Leicestershire (official site, 668 people like this)
Leicestershire (organisation, 1 person likes this)
Lincolnshire (official site, 840 people like this)
Northamptonshire (official site, 1319 people like this)
Northamptonshire (organisation, 18 people like this)
Nottinghamshire (person)
Nottinghamshire (organisation, 5 people like this)
Nottinghamshire (company, 10 people like this)
Staffordshire (official site, 858 people like this)
Staffordshire (organisation, 6 people like this)
Warwickshire (company, 39 people like this)
Warwickshire (official site, 193 people like this)
Warwickshire (company, 2 people like this)
West Mercia (official site, 761 people like this)
West Mercia (organisation, 16 people like this)
West Midlands (official site, 4441 people like this)
West Midlands (organisation, 43 people like this)
West Midlands (sports team - police fc, 2 people like this)
West Midlands (business)
Cleveland (official site, 907 people like this)
Cleveland (organisation, 17 people like this)
Cleveland (abuse site, 2593 people like this)
Durham (organisation, 22 people like this)
Humberside (organisation, 19 people like this)
North Yorkshire (organisation, 7 people like this)
North Yorkshire (official site, 404 people like this)
Northumbria (official site, 1329 people like this)
Northumbria (organisation)
South Yorkshire (official site, 1322 people like this)
South Yorkshire (organisation, 38 people like this)
South Yorkshire (company, 14 people like this)
West Yorkshire (official site, 4823 people like this)
West Yorkshire (company, 8 people like this)
West Yorkshire (organisation, 8 people like this)
Cheshire (abuse site, 939 people like this)
Cheshire (company, 7 people liked this)
Cumbria (official site, 1741 people like this)
Cumbria (personal page, 1 person likes this)
GMP (personal page, 2 likes)
GMP (personal page)
GMP (company page, 32 people like this)
GMP (company page, 6 people like this)
GMP (organisation, 36 people like this)
Merseyside (organisation, 66 people like this)
Merseyside (abuse site, 6573 people like this)
Lancashire (organisation, 2 people like this)
PSNI (official site, 1027 people like this)
Dyfed-Powys (organisation, 6 people like this)
Gwent (official site, 190 people like this)
Gwent (organisation, 4 people like this)
North Wales (official site, 1061 people like this)
North Wales (organisation, 2 people like this)
South Wales (organisation, 23 people like this)
South Wales (company, 17 people like this)

Friday, 3 September 2010

Twitter - un-followers

I have some police stats to share for daily, weekly and monthly tweets and followers since the launch in May 2010.

The first chart shows cumulative counts of tweets and followers.

Target volumes for tweets are no more than 5 per day and this rate has remained constant.

The rate of followers has gradually increased.  The slight drops are adjustments at the end of each month for those who unfollowed (more about that below).
A consistent pattern of increasing followers is emerging and this is most easily seen in the monthly chart.  If this trend continues, we can expect 400 followers per month by December 2010.
During August 2010 there were were 234 followers and 16 of those un-followed during the same month.

103 of these followers were from the force area.

Out of 16 un-followers, 19% (3 un-followers) were from the force area while the remaining 81% (13 un-followers) were from elsewhere.

So out of 103 followers from the force area during August, only 3 un-followed within the same month.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Twitter - who's following who?

From a sample of approx. 550 followers
September 2010
This is a bit of research I did this evening to investigate the different types of followers of a typical police Twitter channel.  I looked at each follower and determined which of the nine categories they best fitted.  The pie chart shows the most relevant category first (local public), moving round clockwise to the least relevant category (unknown).  Unknown followers were those with no obvious information on location and usually had no tweets and/or very few followers of their own. These can be considered irrelevant as they are either spam or redundant accounts.

The findings show that 44% of the total followers were relevant local members of the public or local businesses with a further 11% of local partnerships, websites and media.  In total 51% of the total followers are local with the remaining 49% made up of public and businesses located outside the local area - in fact, some from overseas.  It must be noted that although a large percentage of the businesses were likely to have been touting for business, the out-of-area public followers could well be ex-locals, locals working overseas, and friends or family of people in the local area. A significant number of followers were other forces and police agencies both in the UK and overseas.

Based on these findings, it is safe to conclude that around 60%-70% of followers are local people, businesses, partnership organisations and media together with other people and businesses from outside the local area who have a significant interest in the Twitter channel they have followed.  About 30%-40% of the remaining followers are not particularly interested in the Twitter channel or not interested at all.

To follow or not to follow?
There seems to be a keen debate about whether to follow your followers or not.  Some sources suggest that followers should be followed to show commitment to 2-way communication and establish the opportunity for both parties to Direct Message each other if required.  Twitter is all about a conversation after all and not a one-way channel.  If a one-way communication channel is all that is required, the RSS feeds which services most police force twitter channels are more then adequate.

However, there are also arguments that following the followers of your Twitter channel will cause an administrative burden and invite a number of incoming messages which will require timely replies and further admin commitments.  It must be noted that, regardless of who is followed, messages can always be directed @ us which still require a timely reply.

Some have suggested that not following relevant followers (i.e. the 60%-70% of those highlighted above), is similar to them acknowledging us in the street with a friendly 'hello' but being ignored by us in return.

Comments about this post are welcomed - especially opinions about the 'to follow or not to follow' debate.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Wildlife Crime

Heres a challenge to the National Police Web Managers from @Pigsonthewing via Twitter.

@Pigsonthewing has issued a blog appeal for all forces to provide some information about the role of their Wildlife Crime Officers on the police websites. Through some collaborative work via Google Docs, @pigsonthewing has compiled a spreadsheet of the forces showing those which have information about Wildlife Crime and those who do not. It appears that 29 force sites do have information about Wildlife Crime Officers and 22 do not.

Apart from the obvious possibility that some forces don't actually have any Wildlife Crime Officers, it seems strange that there is an almost 50:50 split between those that do and those that don't. Are there any common elements which are provided and which could be adopted as 'standard data' for all forces in due course? As well as providing a 'full-set' of pages throughout the country, we could go further and provide a dataset in the appropriate formats - perhaps as simple as a list of officers' names and contact details. One learning point here which @pigsonthewing rightly points out is that although XML/RSS is the way to provide datasets we could also provide the same data as .CSV format.

Those forces listed with Wildlife Crime links:

Cambridgeshire Constabulary

Cheshire Constabulary

Cumbria Constabulary

Derbyshire Constabulary

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary

Dorset Police

Dyfed-Powys Police

Fife Constabulary

Gloucestershire Constabulary Crime/item4113.html

Greater Manchester Police

Grampian Police;34;188

Gwent Police - Heddlu Gwent

Hampshire Constabulary

Hertfordshire Constabulary

Kent Police

Lancashire Constabulary

Lothian and Borders Police

Leicestershire Constabulary

Lincolnshire Police

Merseyside Police

Metropolitan Police Service

Norfolk Constabulary

Northern Constabulary

North Yorkshire Police

Police Service of Northern Ireland

Strathclyde Police

Surrey Police

Tayside Police

Thames Valley Police

Warwickshire Police

You never see a police officer when you need one

This blog is prompted by that age-old saying which is usually what causes people to request 'more bobbies on the beat' when asked how they would like the see the police improved.

View Mam Tor in a larger map

I think it has come to be a 'stock' answer for most people when asked such a question in public satisfaction surveys.  Most people (thank goodness) don't get involved with the business of the police on a year-to-year basis, let alone daily one.  They don't spend their days contemplating what may be right or wrong with the way police forces carry out their duty - they are too busy with life's more trivial matters; work, shopping, children, school and social activities.  The police are just there when you need them much like doctors, hospitals, firefighters and social workers. When confronted on a street corner by a well-meaning member of a police force asking for how the policing in their area could be improved, they freeze, clam up and revert to that stock answer.

"Well, you don't see police officers around like you used to - I would like to see more on the streets."
So we deal with this by creating neighbourhood policing; try our best to run local surgeries and get officers out patrolling the streets as often as possible. But there is a flaw in the plan.  Many people live their lives by routine and they don't schedule time in their day to attend meeting just to see a police officer. Even if the volume of officers on the streets were increased by x5 or even x10, it would be highly unlikely that the majority of people would see one.  Why would they?  they are probably tucked up in their office for at least 8 hours per day complaining that they don't see their boss as often as they should, let alone a police officer.

Anyway - here's the point.  It doesn't matter how many extra officers we deploy to the streets.  What matters is getting as many people as possible to know the extent of their patrols without actually having to witness it in person.

So my idea is simple.  Track all street patrols by GPS and publish the track onto an online map.

The data doesn't have to be real-time because this may well prompt another inevitable question:

"That will make the job of the criminals much easier if they know where all the police officers are".
So we upload the patrol tracks 12-24 hours later. There are several areas for improvement in this basic concept.  Waypoints could be added with comments, photos, audio and video clips to illustrate the patrol. The software can be used to record and publish the distance traveled and some very reassuring data can be calculated as a result. I wonder how many thousand miles a typical force would clock up in a year if all the foot patrols for all their officers were added up?

Forces already have the national radio system (Airwave) in place which may well have GPS capabilities built-in and alternatives are coming in the shape of smartphones like the Apple iPhone and the latest Android phones.

At the start is a Google Map which was made using an HTC Desire Smartphone with an app called MyTracks - designed to record and plot runs and walks.  I didn't make use of all the clever features, just the route and a few waypoints but it is still impressive and suggests a way forward in the future. (I added the photos on later - the MyTracks app doesn't do that yet but I think they're working on it).

Location-based social networking systems for Police Service?

I am interested to see if the Police Service could use tools such as 4Square and Gowalla.

These are location based systems which enable users to 'check in' to a location, share this information with their friends within the systems and even to broadcast them to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Below is a graphic explaining the differences between the two taken from an interesting blog by Shane Snow →

I am registered with both 4Square and Gowalla, but tend to use 4Square more often due to personal choice. While these systems are used as ways of letting my friends (world) know where I am and what I am doing if I so choose to do, they also reward me by awarding points for various goals. Some commercial companies are now exploring these systems to help steer people to their retail outlets by providing discounts for checking in to their location.

While this is good for personal use and for commercial use how can this be turned to the advantage of the police service?

I believe it can. I could see this being used within the Local Policing Teams with each force in the UK. Let us look at how this may work:

Once a team has signed up to one of these services it will need to link these with their Twitter and Facebook accounts if they have one. Initially they will need to 'market' this new social media channel to their audience through word of mouth, other SM channels and websites.

Many LPTs have satellite stations that they drop into for surgeries etc. Using these location based systems the teams can broadcast a message to those friends within the system, and those with Twitter and Facebook. The message could state 'PC Joe Bloggs is here for the next 4hrs. If you have a policing question please come and visit me'.

Management will need to understand that the target audience of this communications may be small – 10s or possible 100s of people. But the important point is that most, if not all of these people, will have actively wanted to follow this team and therefore will be positive about receiving the message. Hopefully by using this location based software with other SM channels will help promote the work of the LPTs in the community and offer the ability of the community to engage with the team.

I would also see teams using this to highlight locations that they visit to promote the force/team – ie fetes, care homes, schools etc; as well as the Community Engagement meetings. In fact if used cleverly it can be used to promote two way engagement to these community engagement meeting using other SM channels such as Twitter for real time communications about local concerns.

As the system records 'check in' it can also be used to show where the teams have engaged the community and how frequently which may help increase public confidence.

There are a couple of negatives for me within the system – nothing that would stop me from trialling the systems though. One concern is that if you promote where you are then you are highlighting the fact that you are not at home for example and unscrupulous people may use these systems to burgle you while you are out. For me this is an issue for personal use of the system not for commercial use within local policing teams.

The second concern is that this has a game feel to it as you are given points and rewards for checking in and completing tasks etc. Again I do not feel this is an issue for the LPTs but am highlighting as some may have concerns about the gimmickness of the system.

Overall, I think that this is something that LPTs should be using and would be interested in the views of forces and members of the public in relation to adoption of a location based system.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Black Spots - Road Safety Information

I would be interested in hearing from any force out there that is currently using an interactive map and video footage to help promote road black spots in relation to road safety. I would also like to hear from the community as to whether the proposal below is something that would interest people.

I have been thinking about doing this for a while but thought that this might be something that we could create on a national level if not already available so that all forces can add information.

In many areas of the UK road safety is a priority for the police with road related deaths being an issue. The thought is to have an interactive map, using one of the freely available ones such as Google, where members of the public can enter postcodes, town names etc and see if there are any officially recognised black spots in their selected area.

Picture above is for illustrative purposes only.

The goal then is to have the local force record via head cams or car/bike cams the drive through the black spot area. Once this has been recorded I would see a voice over from an experienced traffic officer explaining what the issue is that causes people problems, ie there is a hidden farm drive, blind dip in the road etc.

The aim is that through promotion of this service through all channels available we can get motorists to check these videos in the area they live/travel so that they are made aware of the issue before they travel through the black spot.

Hopefully this may reduce the number of incidents/deaths on our roads. I would see us teaming up with organisations such as BikeSafe, AA, RAC etc....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

National Guides around Social Media Setup and Usage

One of the things that I am looking to move forward within the National Police Web Managers Group is our strong belief of working in collaboration for the interest of all police forces.

We have for a number of years been looking at collaboration and have worked on a number of projects such as the initial Crime Mapping system in 2008, the PNLD Ask the Police API to a name a couple.

Many of us are acutely aware that we are duplicating work of fellow colleagues within other forces and also other partner agencies by looking at Social Media Channels for the force that we represent.

What I would like to propose is that a working group of a number of web managers from different forces, who have experience in a specific SM channel to work virtually on producing a national strategy on how forces should use the system and also how they should setup the system. This will mean that instead of 43 Web Managers individually researching this we could have a core group of 4-5 web managers working on behalf of all forces.

This would then mean that another group of web managers could look at another SM channel and produce guidance/setup details for it, and so forth....

Would this not be a better use of Web Managers time throughout the service. We would naturally work with partners such as the NPIA, Home Office, DirectGov and local government as well as expert representatives from the community.

This is something that we are seeking support for and I would welcome comments on the post on how we can take this forward or suggestions of items that we should address.

Posted by: Sasha Taylor

Calling all NPWM Bloggers

This evening, Sasha will be making his first blog on this site.  We would like many other Web Managers to contribute to this blog as well.  The process requires you to be added which means we need to invite you via an email address.  Please send an email to npwmg1 - at - so we can invite you in.  After that, please blog away to your heart's content!

We still have the Ning group in place for threaded conversations and Twitter for short message blogging.  This site is when you have an idea, concept or proposal that you need comment on. We'll see how things go and review later on. If you don't fancy blogging, why not take a look through the other blogs and make some comments?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Tesco v Police Stations

This prompted some twitter conversation this evening so I thought I'd blog a bit about it.

For a start, I didn't believe there were more Tescos open 24 hours, seven days per week than police stations in Essex so I did a bit of research of my own.  I even plotted the results in a Google Map:

View Tescos v Police: 24 hours servcies in Essex in a larger map

Red - 24/7 Police Stations
Blue - 'nearly' 24/7 Tescos
Purple - 24/7 Tesco (Brentwood)

The results were quite interesting. There are 15 '24 hour' Tescos in Essex but only one of these are genuinely open 24/7.  All the others are open 24/7 for 5 days of the week, normally Tuesday - Saturday with regular hours on Sundays and Mondays.

In contrast there are 11 police stations open 24/7 out of a total of 49 station which are open to the public.
I think Richard Edwards, the Telegraph Crime Correspondent may need to dig a bit deeper into the Tescos stats and check those '24/7' claims again.  If there is only 1 genuine 24/7 Tescos in Essex, it is likely that there are more like 50 - 75 nationwide, not 394 as reported.  Unfortunately, the storefinder on the Tescos website offers many options to filter stores but there is no 24/7 filter!

This leads on to another debate.  Can you really compare a public service paid for by the tax payer and a commercial business driven by profit?

How many people need to go shopping (and how often) compared to those needing to visit a police station?  We visit Sainsburys 3 or 4 times a week and spend several hours in there in total.  I don't think I have ever needed to visit a police station except for my job (and that doesn't count).  If every family in the UK had a need to spend several hours per week in a police station, there would be many more and they would probably be as big as your average Tescos or Sainsburys.

I have had a need to use an airport more often in the last 25 years than I have had need of a police station.  However, I think it is OK that there is only 1 airport in Essex and only three international airports in the region. I'm not demanding that there should be 15 airports in Essex so why should there need to be 15 24/7 police stations?

I have added 5 audio clips to this evening.  This is in effect a trial for a suitable outlet for our audio clips alongside YouTube for our video clips.

Listen on!

You can even embed it into a web page!  You only have control over the width and height.  It needs to be fairly wide otherwise the title text bunches up a bit.  Not bad though.

Twitter stats

Police forces on Twitter - August 2010

This is a graph to show the forces who are using Twitter.  The force with the most tweets on the left and the forces currently not using twitter on the right.  Everyone else in the middle! Interesting to note is the range of tweets (red) compared with the followers (blue).  Also, it seems not many forces feel it is important to follow those people who are following them.

This map shows the forces (blue) who are currently using Twitter with those not yet involved in yellow.

It would be interesting to know if any of the 10 forces not yet on Twitter are planning their introduction or have already decided against it.

If I have this wrong, of if any forces join Twitter in the coming months, please comment and let me know.  In six months time, it will be interesting to see if there is a difference in the coverage on this map.

I'll aim to do a similar blog entry for forces on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

Update - September 1, 2010

Firstly sorry to Hampshire Police for missing their Twitter site off the original post.  Not quite sure how I missed it!
@Hantspolice - 170 tweets, following 329, 810 followers.

Also, Nottinghamshire Police launched their Twitter site today! Help them get started

That takes the tally of police forces that tweet to 35 with only 8 still to join in the fun.

I have the September stats, graphs and map all ready to upload so look out for the latest Twitter stats post on Friday.

And finally, has anyone discovered AudioBoo yet?

This site is a perfect complement to the social media sites.  Audio can be uploaded in a similar way to Twitter and there are close links to Twitter, Facebook and podcasts with iTunes.

ukpolcamp, crowdsourcing and npwmg

I went onto Wikipedia to find out more about crowdsourcing after it was mentioned on Twitter.

"Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call."
I like this idea a lot.  It appeals as a compromise between continuing development in isolation within an organisation where innovation can become stilted and soured (seeinstitutional memory), and the outright waste of money by passing everything into the commercial environment where money has to be more important than anything else.

I would like to explore the dynamics of mixing the desires of the various police web managers to work collaboratively; the wider scoping of a barcamp and the ultimate public collaboration of crowdsourcing.  Maybe a group like the web managers would be better engaged in providing organisational support and momentum in creating the appropriate environment for effective police barcamps and crowdsourcing (and then taking part) than trying to work together initially on their own.

This leads to to considering how an open environment which includes the public can work in developing resources to improve police IT and web systems.  Public automatically includes criminals and those others who would love to disrupt developments.  This aspect can be taken positively or negatively and I would hope that the potential benefits would outweigh the overly protective attitude police forces traditionally have to all things new (see institutional memory again!).

What would the environment look like?

I see two separate areas to consider.

1. The places where people discuss ideas, present concepts and agree policy both in meetings, barcamps, blogs, websites, Twitter etc.

2. The point where code and graphics are created, databased and where web projects are incubated.

The first is just words and ideas and something anyone can already freely get involved in anyway but my concern is when the words start turning into prototype sites and real development.  How can access to developing code and sites be both open and accessible and also controlled and kept safe from rogue code and scripts?  I think this is the key area the web managers could assist in - the gatekeepers of the code, controlling the interface between the experiments and proposals from the wider collaborative communities and the secure, safe environment where the development is tweeked, tested and perfected prior to first release.

This is an area where Google or Mozilla can surely assist us?  They manage the fine line between mass collaboration which includes the public and the end products.

(Originally posted on August 8, 2010)