Monday, 30 August 2010

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.


  1. Hi there.

    You make some very good points around the Neighbourhood side of policing. I also think there is a role (though perhaps in 3 years time!) for the location based web in investigative policing and crime prevention.

    Imagine an incident at a nightspot. You could add a witness appeal to that spot, or message anyone who visits in the next month asking if they saw anything.

    You could also attach crime prevention advice around known crime hotspots - "be careful of pickpockets". Where this verges into "location based Spam" is an interesting question, but I think there could be some value in exploring it further.

    Of course some forces are already playing with this stuff using bluetooth transmitters to target people in a specific location (with differeing levels of success).

  2. Hi
    We are currently working with and speaking to Police partners to implement this with CrowdControlHQ a leading integrated social media platform. Exploiting opportunities and managing risks including full 24/7 Facebook moderation. We are partners with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), The Association of Police Communicators(APComm)and LGComms. Would love to share with Police colleagues what is possible @CCHQPolice