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Bobbies on the tweet: Strathclyde Police tells more than 130 cops to tweet from the beat


By Cameron Clarke | Editor

April 24, 2012 | 4 min read

Scotland's largest police force is asking its 134 local inspectors to start tweeting from the beat.

Strathclyde Police, which is responsible for Glasgow and a huge swathe of west Scotland, says it will be the first force in the UK to give officers in every district their own branded Twitter accounts.

Each account will bear the name of the inspector in charge of it and their picture. From May, the officers will use these accounts to keep their communities informed about incidents in their area.

The force's director of corporate communications, Rob Shorthouse, hopes the initiative will help "reduce the fear of crime" and make officers more approachable - but he accepts it may come in for criticism from some quarters.

He told The Drum: "I don’t think the public want to hear us say that we are creating more administrative burden and keeping officers at their desks. That’s not what this is all about.

"We've told our officers: 'You’re not going to be Lady Gaga, you’re not going to get 20 million followers. This is not going to be a huge burden on your time. You are police offers first and foremost and your first responsibility is to be out working with the community and catching people that commit crime'.

"One of the things that stopped us doing this in the past was almost a fear of the traditional media. Part of the traditional media might pick up on what we are trying to do here and be hugely critical of it and say, 'well hang on a second, cops should be out catching the bad guys, not doing this'.

"That’s why I need to stress this is 10 or 20 minutes a day. In the same way we organise lots of community meetings it's about engaging with the public. It’s the same thing it’s just taking place in a different environment."

Shorthouse said officers have been put through a "huge training programme" so they understand the technology. But they have been given no explicit guidance on what they should or should not say.

"It is down to the inspectors to use it as they see fit," he said.

"What we’ve not done, purposefully, is presented the community inspectors with a list of things they can’t do because I think that sets it off on the wrong foot right from the start.

"It’s about showing trust in our people. There is no question that at some point something will go wrong. It’s how we deal with that.

"Cops could say something that is entirely good intentioned but is taken the wrong way, but we’ll deal with it."

Shorthouse said having the force's cops on Twitter could help reassure the public and quash unhelpful rumours.

"Sadly, one of the things we are seeing more and more is that Twitter in particular gives people an avenue to talk about rumours that they’ve heard. We get quite a lot of, ‘I heard there was a child abducted in Maryhill’. People get really panicked by that.

"This gives us an opportunity to rebut some of these rumours doing the rounds, or say ‘yeah there is a problem with vandalism in this area and two people got nicked last night’."

The Twitter accounts will come into effect when Strathclyde Police relaunches its website at the beginning of next month.

The new website is actually made up of 134 separate community sites, which cover each of the wards in Strathclyde. On these pages users will find a YouTube video introducing their community inspector, local crime statistics and tailored news content.


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