22 September 2011 - 1:37pm | posted by

“If we train police to shoot guns, why can’t we train them to tweet”: Should the police learn to embrace social media?

Speaking at the Social Buzz Awards trends and insights discussion at STV last night, Paul Fabretti said that if we train police to shoot guns, why can’t we train them to tweet?

Professor Bill Buchanan said that outwith the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency there didn’t seem to be extensive understanding of the internet and operations within law enforcement agencies.

He said that there was doubt on whether there was “Enough knowledge in the Scottish police to understand the internet and how it is used by people.”

Craig McGill, MD and ‘creative guy’ for Contently Managed, told The Drum an example of the lack of social media knowledge held by the police, which had led him to offer emergency services a free one day course on how to use social platforms.

He said: “Last month, one of Edinburgh's top social media types Andrew Burnett told me that he has spotted something online that seemed a bit suspicious. A person had been posting tweets that made it look as if they were going to either harm themselves or others. Now Andrew had read a bunch of the tweets, got an idea for what the person was like and was still concerned, so he said that he was going to get in touch with Strathclyde Police as the person lived in that area.

“I had a read of what this person had posted and thought it might be fair enough for the police to be aware of it because then they could have psychologists or the people they have trained in these areas could have a look at the tweets and see if there was something of concern or nothing to worry about. I thought it was most likely nothing but to be on the safe side I contacted the Police as I wasn't sure if Andrew had.

“So I told them what I knew, gave them the URL details, was told that they couldn't access Twitter but I assumed they would find a machine or phone that could. And that was that. I left the matter at that, thinking the police would have a look and then decide if it was worth doing anything.

“What I didn't expect then was two police to come to my door just before 2am asking if I could talk them through everything again, show them the tweets and what it was that made me think it might be an issue. Again, the police said they couldn't access Twitter themselves. So I showed them everything, explaining how Twitter worked. They asked if I would be able to get them the details of the person that was on Twitter and I pointed out that no I couldn't. They also asked for Andrew's address and details (which I didn't have). Andrew and I had had a look at the person's online footprint - again, something the police couldn't do - but we couldn't provide a home address, phone number or anything like that.

“The police left and I've no idea what happened next.”

When asked how he thought police in Scotland were handling social media, McGill said: "Some forces are doing it really well. In Stirling and Inverness, they have a decent grasp on it and I believe L&B do too, but I think that the majority of the forces in the UK are still treating it with suspicion."

With Greater Manchester Police being praised last month for its use of Twitter to calm down riots and letting the public know what was happening, is it time for Scotland’s police to start learning to tweet as well as walking the beat?

Featured by The Drum