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)

Online Meetings

Live Meetings
Just read that Nick Herbert MP is doing a live online Q&A session on on Monday Aug 2, 2010 at 11am, discussing 21st Century Policing.  They will be using

I tried out one of these online meetings which was hosted recently by Whitbey neighbourhood police officers. They ran it as a live text only meeting but Cover it Live can also support video and audio live meetings too.  As the Home Office are using it, I think it is likely to be a good candidate for a system which we could use for a national live meetings system.  Does anyone know of any other similar live online systems which could offer a good environment for public consultation. Maybe there are free alternatives?  Google Wave look tantalizingly useful but I've not yet had time to understand exactly what it is and how it works. Likewise, Google Talk with the audio and video add ons could also be useful.  Skype seems to have a '5 users at a time' limit and then there are all those other IM offerings too.  I think we should experiment with some of these services with a view to finding something we could use to develop a live public chat/video/audio service to be used alongside a public meeting or as an alternative.

Mockingbird to the rescue

Thanks to John for the Mockingbird reminder.  I have used it to shove together a very basic first draft of a typical force website layout based on the initial research from my previous blog entries from last week.

It shows an overall top bar like the BBC intended to remain throughout all police force sites as an anchor.  It contains a national police graphic ident of some description - typical things would include the checker squares but we can think of something more imaginative than that. The basic navigation which appear to be common to all police sites - this just clears space for more content below. The search is also a universal feature of most sites so this can serve as a search engine and a way to set locality either by postcode or placename - we should be able to use the same search box for both functions and save more space.

The orange section is where the local force identity is established. Common elements like the force crest, force name and motto can all go in here.  I have put in some social media icons but there is space for customisation for text, photos, links and content specific to each force. The general principle is to keep the logo to the left and the height of the orange box constant to aid cross-border navigation.

Next comes an area taken from the BBC homepage layout - a large area containing an impactive photo or image with flexibility for text links below or to the side plus three smaller boxes to the right. At a national level the content of these boxes can be flexible and set to some key national or generic police news stories nominated by any force and democratically elected to the 'top spot'.  It could be general content or features, also nominated and planned by all forces together or maybe under the control of a smaller group of elected reps. At a local force level, the content in these boxes becomes controlled by the force web manager.

The area below is also copied from the BBC homepage and uses a three column layout. This area is populated by widgets which can be 1, 2 or 3 columns wide and of variable depth as dictated by the content. The widgets are or uniform fixed width so the user can add, modify or delete according to their preference.

News widget
This can work at multiple levels depending on site depth.

1. Nationally - it can show news from any police source and possibly mash external sources like the BBC. Refinements can be made to topics of interest by keyword searches which can be saved. In this way a sophisticated set of interests can be built up to refine the news at this level. In this sense it could work a bit like Twitter - by following more sources and topics you refine the news mix you receive. By extending the mix outside of traditional police topics, we can work towards our national page being more attractive to be used as a 'home page' as our news service can be adapted to suit interests beyond traditional policing topics.

2. Force level - Exactly the same concept except that the focus starts by default on force level news.  The user can still refine the mix by bringing in news from another force area to suit where they work or perhaps where relatives live elsewhere in the UK. The key thing is that as soon as they designate a local area by placename or postcode, the site immediately converts to the local force site from that point.

3. Neighbourhood level - News articles should be pinpointed to a local level wherever possible.  This should be done either by Geocode, postcode or tags to a standard area shape - ward, neighbourhood, district etc. As long as the lowest level locator is known, higher level areas can be calculated automatically. The news mix can be refined as people navigate to neighbourhood areas of the site as well as by topic.  An article about domestic violence should bring back recent news articles and display them as possible links for further reading.  Some kind of weighting system could be put into place so that news from outside the force or even from an external source could be offered if it is calculated by the weighing engine to be of relevant value to the keywords in the feature article being viewed.

Other widgets
We should aim to develop widgets that start at a national level but which can be adapted and refined at force and neighbourhood levels also. Ultimately, we need to always consider what is of benefit to the user of the site rather than what is politically convenient for the organisation. People live increasingly transient lives and want to mix and match their content to suit their unique circumstances and not be confined by our self-imposed geographical or topical boundaries.

(originally posted on July 31, 2010)

Breadcrumbs & Search

Busy evening.
First off, I counted breadcrumbs trails. 43 out of 53 sites had them, many with the words 'You are here' preceding the trail.

8 of the search engines are Google Custom search.

1 is powered by Google but not branded
1 search engine returned no results for any search term
1 search by atomz - page not found error
4 non-Google search produced good results
1 non-Google search produced good results and highlighted search term in resulted page.
4 non-Google search results were worse than a bog-standard Google search within site

I didn't finish this list because I got into a Skype call with James and Sasha regarding Ning.  We decided to renew a basic NING account for 1 year which has now been done.  We also set up a Google Group, Google Site, Google Blog and Google email address too.  All that was a bit complicated but I hope to get it all sorted out over the weekend and start sharing the various sites with the rest of the group.  All a bit premature but at least it is all started.

The small logo in the Group is just for a start - I will attempt to do a better one when I get time but if anyone else fancies picking up their pens and pencils (or Photoshop), feel free and join in.

Back to the search stuff above - it seems fairly obvious to me that paid for search engines which come as part of a CMS can never do any better than the basic Google site search (which is free). The issue may be getting recent web pages to index quickly with Google but I think this can be overcome by using Google Webmaster Tools.

Next idea is to do a mock-up of the BBC home page as a concept site.  I want to try and work out how a national police site and the force sites can site together.  There must be some element of continuity between all police sites but still a large element of uniqueness and local branding.  The balance between the two will be politically charged and very difficult to achieve so starting will some innocent drawings looks to be the best way to begin.  If we don't like the drawings, we can throw them away and try again!

(originally posted on July 30, 2010)

Footers 'r Us

Quick bit of stats work tonight - may prove interesting later so here goes.

I looked at the footers of about 53 police websites and noted what was in 'em.  Here's the results:

Footer content

Copyright notice - 36
Legal/Privacy statement - 28
Sitemap - 17
Accessibility - 14
Terms and Conditions - 14
Disclaimer - 10
Designed by - 8
Facebook - 8
Crimestoppers - 7
YouTube - 7
Languages - 7
Back to top - 7
Main navigation repeated as plain text - 5
FAQs - 5
FOI - 5
Non Urgent number - 5
Homepage link - 5
Twitter - 5
Neighbourhoods - 5
'Add This' share - 5
Browsealoud/listen to this page - 4
Search - 4
Main address/phone/minicom - 4
Feedback - 4
Print page - 4
About this site - 3
A-Z index - 3
Flickr - 3
Police Authority - 3
Contact Us - 3
'Not responsible for external links' - 3
Delicious/Diggit/Reddit/Stumble Upon - 3
Webmaster - 3
Links - 2
Anti Terror Hotline - 2
News - 2
999 - 2
Media Centre - 2
Force slogan - 2
Investors in People - 2
W3C sign - 2
CEOP web safety badge - 2
Access Keys - 2
Email to friend - 2

Plus 23 others all with 1 each . . .
What's new, link to this site, video, email newsletter, mobile version, DirectGov, Complaints, Report Crime, Victims of Crime, Last  updated, site tools, Safety camera partnership, Policing Pledge, Plain English Campaign, CCA Excellence Award, Hide your visit, Date/Time past edited, Charter Mark, Healthy Working Lives, Get Adobe Reader, Text Sizer (AAA), Zoom, Text only version.

I make that 67 different 'things' altogether. Phew!

Next I counted the overall number of items and links in the footer area of each page:
Footer items

3 items - 6
6 items - 5
7 items - 5
9 items - 4
10 items - 4
2 items - 3
4 items - 3
5 items - 3
8 items - 3
12 items - 3
14 items - 2
22 items - 2
1 item - 1
11 items - 1
13 items - 1
15 items - 1
16 items - 1
19 items - 1
21 items - 1

I'd say the average is about 7 - 10 items in the footer.

Last one for tonight.
Site layout (general pages, not the home page)

Left side navigation with a main content column and right side extras - 25
Left side navigation with a main column only - 20
Left side navigation with two equal content columns - 1
Right side navigation with a main column only - 2
Multi-level top navigation with a single content column - 2
Multi-level top navigation with a main column and right side extras - 1

Vast dominance of left side main navigation in all but 5 websites. It's also worth noting that all the websites are sized to fit (more or less) into a standard width 1024 pixel screen. Most were fixed width sites with a few variable width.  I'll get the figures on the exact totals tomorrow.  Variable width sites were 'all the rage' at one stage in an attempt to fill the available screen real estate. However, in recent years, with the advent of widescreen displays, it is increasingly difficult to design a good looking site which works squashed to the old 800 pixel limit all the way out to the higher resolution sizes 1440 pixels.  It seems more people are designing to a fixed width of about 960 pixels with a centered float for larger screen sizes.

One more thing - The emergence of the latest generation of smartphones like the iPhone have excellent browsers which allow the user to zoom in and over the web page.  I have found this method is better than using the equivalent 'mobile' version of the same site and it maybe that the need to design a specific 'mobile' version of sites will soon be no more.  Probably what is more important is the need to be very flexible with the data - offering it up in a usable format like XML so that it can be mashed into other applications in the spirit of  This may be a very good reason to develop sites in unison so the resulting data operates to a national schema in the same spirit as the neighbourhood data we all contribute to

Obvious datasets would be news, events, jobs and police stations data. I expect I'll expand on this topic in later blog entries.

(Originally posted on July 29, 2010)