Inside the Metropolitan Police Force's new digital engagement strategy
The Metropolitan Police Service has begun the latest phase of its digital transformation drive with the full public launch of its digital platform enabling the public to engage with the force across multiple digital platforms.
Following the completion of a beta rollout of the digital platform in February, the Met has developed what it says is one of the world’s most digitally-connected police forces, with the entire Met police force having been trained on the use of social media.
The initiative was spearheaded by Metropolitan Police director of communications Martin Fewell, previously deputy editor of Channel 4 News before joining the Met in 2012.
The project was carried out in partnership with Globant, a technology services company, aiming to create the first fully comprehensive programme offering direct public online access to the full range of police services.
Chris Averill, Globant managing director for Europe, told The Drum that the Met Police faced unique challenges in digital transformation. “Police officers are taught to accept nothing and believe no one. It’s a very traditional organisation and as this hadn’t been done anywhere in the world before so it was a huge challenge. It was critical to start small and prove it along the way.”
The success of the project does hold many lessons for other organisations attempting the process of digital transformation. Averill stresses that having someone at the top of the organisation bought into the idea is essential. “Without Martin, it would never have happened”, he said.
Fewell also pointed out that the way digital transformation projects were presented internally was a key factor in their success.
“You need to engage people with the idea this is not an IT project but a business project. So you can’t be looking for your IT team to lead this but the wider business team, which is what some organisations don’t appreciate.”
The Met’s digital transformation project includes all parts of the organisation. A deal with cloud content management company Box struck in September will see the service used as a central online location for digital assets such as CCTV footage in a move to modernise policing in London.
The move is a significant step in the digitisation of the Met, as previously all such footage had to be stored and distributed via DVD or a USB stick, with their obvious time and security issues.
With the launch of Globant’s communications platform, the public can now report any crime or road traffic incident online, in addition to interactions such as applying for licenses and completing forms.
“The Met has set out to allow all our citizens to connect to us using digital channels. The terrorist incidents we had earlier this year saw widespread use of our social media content and our website as people sought immediate information, wanted to report concerns or express condolences,” said Fewell. “There’s no better example of how the work we have done with Globant has already brought real benefits for public safety and confidence in policing.”
In addition to the online services, the launch also includes the creation and maintenance of over 1,200 local area Facebook and Twitter accounts, creating the largest government social media program in the world.
Over 1200 police officers were trained on the use of social media for local policing.
Fewell points out that the nature of policing means that its use of social media has to be “hyper local”.
He continued: “You will probably care what happens in your road and the road six roads away, but probably won’t care about one 20 roads away. That’s why we need so many social accounts. The Met police have always depended on engaging the public to be successful – most other police forces around the world have guns – so it’s very natural to use social media as just another way of doing this.”
While the Met is committed to the use of digital channels to engage the public, it will restrict the use of paid media for when it needs to target very specific audiences to achieve policing goals. For instance, in the Madeleine McCann investigation when it wanted to reach into specific communities in Portugal.
“Paid media can be very effective when we want to target very specifically. A recent case in Africa, for example, saw us use social media to get to the places where we believed the suspect was and we got an arrest.”
Since its beta launch in February, the digital platform has generated traffic to the organisation’s website that has doubled total page-views per annum.
For road traffic collision communications, the platform has led to a shift of over 70% of communications to online reporting.
In the coming months, the programme will expand to include live chat and additional services to extend digital connectivity while informing, reassuring and empowering citizens.
“Live chat was one of the things the public said they were most interested in when we first started asking two years ago,” said Fewell. “We now get twice as many non-emergency calls than emergency calls, so the use of live chat on digital channels could be another very effective way to improve that engagement.”