Saturday, 21 August 2010

A few police website things

I started doing some preliminary research to find out to what extent a national police web service can co-exist with local force sites without upsetting too many people.  Initial results look good.

Crest and force name placement
I started by looking at the real basics with a view to a standardised top strip which could be customised for each force. Out of about 60 police-related websites, 56 have their main logo and name in the top left of the screen.

Search engines
44/60 sites had a search box in the top right corner with a further 8 top left. 9 of the search boxes were branded Google Custom search boxes.  Some other sites didn't have a visible search box but did have a hyperlink to a search facility.  We now have a standard top left logo, force name and optional strapline with a standard right side search box.

Top banner links
Next I looked at the various links offered in or around the top area of the websites. There were about 37 different terms, functions and hyperlinks in this area but the main ones are listed below:

1. Home
Sometimes listed on its own but usually the force crest or logo links back to the home page by default.

2. Accessibility 24/60

3. Site Map 23/60

4. Text Size 20/60 This was usually in the format of three letter As AAA

5. Non-emergency number 20/60

6. Contact Us 16/60

7. Browse Aloud or similar speach-to-text 12/60

8. Language or translate options 11/60

9. Links 9/60

10. 999 emergency number 8/60

Other popuar links were RSS feeds, FAQs, A-Z, text only, help and the ability to change the style sheet to high contrast black or other alternative colour schemes.

The rest were In your area, Index, News, Privacy, Terms, Index, Feedback, Link to this site, printer friendly, HQ, FOI, Police Stations, Login, Podcasts, Feedback, Recruitment, Date/time, Skip Navigation, Access Keys, Glossary, Twitter, You Tube and Facebook.

Postcode look-up
32/60 websites include a visible postcode and/or placename lookup facility on their homepages.  This functionality could be incorporated nationally with a single licence or process to ensure all forces get the most up-to-date data.  The same technology could be used to personalise the local site based on a postcode look-up.  Other material can be localised including news, jobs, neighbourhoods, graphics, photography, style sheets and layout.

Social Media
Facebook - 26
Twitter - 25
YouTube - 22
RSS - 17

Several forces are already using these 'Big Three' social media sites to expand beyond the traditional force website and out to where the people are.  "Fish where the fish are". Several forces are encouraging the use Twitter for individual neighbourhood officers and there is the potential to extend the use of social media for total neighbourhood engagement in addition to or instead of the existing website sections.

Other social media and output channels includes:
Flickr, Blogs, U Stream, Virgin Media, Mobiles and Smartphones, Kiosks, Sky and Delicious.  Many forces use the site to encourage the sharing of website content to other social media sites.

Website sections
Next up were the main website sections offered in the initial navigation structure.

In order were:

About Us - 50
Recruitment - 49
News/Appeals - 48
Contact Us - 41
Crime Prevention/Reduction/Be Safe and various others - 40
Neighbourhoods - 40
Documents, Information, Library etc - 28
FOI - 16
Access to Information - 13
FAQs - 11
Diversity - 10
Crime Maps - 8
Units/Departments/Divisions - 7
Police Authority - 7
Young People - 7
Policing Pledge - 6
Operations/Initiatives/Campaigns - 5
Get Involved - 4
Reporting Crime - 4
Victims and Witnesses - 4
Road Traffic - 4
Justice done - 4
Crimestoppers - 3
Online Services - 3
Firearms Licencing - 3
Links - 3

The top 6 or 7 are popular with the rest being significantly lower than the rest.  This may indicate we could standardise the main categories nationally and allow one or two extra custom sections up to the individual force.

At this point I started looking at how easy it would be to offer a main national system which could equally be utilised further down the stack in force/BCU/District/Neighoburhood/Ward and even postcode level data.

About Us
Is tricky without looking in further detail at which elements are common between forces. One to look at later on.

A national police news system would be an attractive first national solution.  One system rather than 48 with the advantage that individual articles could be shared freely by area but also by topic, date and media type.  Each news article can be tagged to the lowest possible area and a hierarchical area structure could determine the higher level areas automatically.  This would allow news to be re-distributed to any localised area of any website as well as within the traditional news sections.

Combining news nationally also means subscribers have more flexibility in the news mix they can receive.  As well as the specific local area, they can ask for news by topic or media type or even keyword search.

A sterile RSS news feed could be stengthened by giving options for a 'mix and match' RSS feed creation tool similar to the flexible RSS options available in Twitter where an RSS feed is available for search results.

This topic requires much more detailed discussion.

Recruitment 49/60
All police websites seem to have a very popular recruitment section.  One aspect ripe for national coordination is the police staff vacancies.  These are often offered as an RSS feed so a combined national solution could offer more flexible RSS feeds including job types, part time/full time, salary limits, keywords as well as the traditional area options.

As well as a single system for jobs, we could incorporate a single way of combining competiencies and job descriptions.  In time, we could move to a national online system for HR departments to sift, shortlist, interview, select and recruit before the candidate is transferred into the internal HR system.

The other areas of recruitment are very similar - police officer, specials, PCSOs, volunteers etc.  the existing website could be incorporated as the top level  recruitment data source with regional variations for each force added in the local layers (i.e. are we recruitment or not?)

Contact Us 41/60
Along with the various emergency and non emergency numbers (which should be standardised to 999 and 101 in my opinion), our best option in this area is a national crime and intelligence reporting system.

Crime Prevention/Reduction 40/60
There is already a rich national selection of good advice and best practice in website and much of the content in individual forces is repeated.  There is an opportunity to centralise resources to create a first class crime reduction resource which is feature rich and of higher interest and value to citizens than the individual offering of forces.  We can gather the best advice and web pages already on offer and improve that which new and exciting content funding jointly by all forces working together.

Neighbourhoods 40/60
This is the area that has seen the most national collaboration with the development of the national Crime Maps and the associated XML feeds from local websites.  The XML feed saw the development of the first national XML schema to ensure all data concerning neighbourhood policing is standardised and can be interchanged either national to local or local to national. In the same way that the National Crime Maps benefit the public from offering a standardised interface, the same could be true for neighbourhood policing.  We need to ensure that whatever the national element of the solution is, there is always the opportunity at the local level to add or modify the pages to suit the local audience.

Docs and Information 28/60
This is a wide area but there is some common ground suited to a national approach.  Thinking of a section a little like a library, we could offer similar content in a standard way.  All the force policing plans, annual reports and council tax leaflets could be available all in one place as well as from within a local data library on a force website.  This could lead to further national cost savings where the design and manufacture of these reports could be streamlined and presented in a similar structure to enable not only the delivery to be similar but also the actual information within the reports and plans.

I'm not going to go through all the other various options, just touch on a few . . .

FOI and access to information page
Forces are increasingly obliged to record all the various FOI requests for online examination. Although this may not need to be featured aa a top-level navigation section, we could create a national FOI publication schema so all police FOI requests can be recorded for public viewing in the same standardised format with improvements implemented to the benefit of all users when they occur.

Police Authorities
Generally, these are separate websites which forces are required to link to at a fairy high level but it is probably inappropriate to link within a navigation structure as this implies the website is part of the police site. Better to find a common location on the home pages where this link can be located.

Young People
Many forces have created a separate young people's website but initial examination suggests they are similar and there could be a single youth website for the police with some sophisticated localised add-ins. This area requires MUCH more work!

Crime Reporting and Victim support
These are too far down the list and are, in my opinion the two most important services we should be offering online.  The reason they do not appear higher is because they are both very difficult to achieve so in many forces, there is no online option at all.  As we progress further into the 21st century, all current services the police offer will have to be offered as an online service too.  According to Google, digital is dead and it has become part of mainstream life so ALL policing services need to be reflected online.  Victim support online should be a service for all victims where the full details and updates concerning their crime is available securely online and also via mobile, text and email updates if required.

Firearms applications
There are several online services like Firearms applications and Subject Access reports which can be offered at a national level with the results being ported to the correct local force based on a postcode or placename lookup table.

(originally posted on July 27, 2010)

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