Less Crime

Police forces on Twitter

I’ve previously blogged about my UK Police on Twitter page and about which police Twitter accounts have the most followers. I’ve now worked out which police force each of the two-thousand or so UK police Twitter accounts belongs to. As usual, this is based on the police Twitter accounts listed by Nick Keane from the College of Policing, which means that if you’re not on Nick’s list, your not included here.

Inspector Nick Glynn of Leicestershire Constabulary opened the first UK police Twitter account (@NickGlynnLeics) in August 2008, two years after Twitter was founded (he’s now vice-president of the National Black Police Association and tweets as simply @nickglynn). Inspector Glynn was four months ahead of the rest of the police service: West Midlands Police (@WMPolice) became the first UK police force on Twitter in December that year.

I’d assumed every police force is on Twitter, but it appears that until recently this wasn’t true. Before the eight Scottish forces were merged into Police Scotland in April 2013, three (Central Scotland Police, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and Grampian Police) weren’t tweeting, although the latter created three local accounts just before the merger (@ClackmanPolice, @FalkirkPolice and @StirlingPol). Twitter seemed to make less of an impact north of the border than south of it: even the much larger Lothian and Borders Police and Strathclyde Police didn’t join Twitter until well after most English forces. For the rest of this post I’ll treat the former Scottish forces separately, since they embarked on Twitter separately and in different ways.

In England, the last force to join was Suffolk Constabulary (@SuffolkPolice) in July 2011. They were quite late to the party, since every other territorial police force except them and @BedsPolice had been tweeting for a year or more by that time.

This map is a cartogram: the area covered by each police force has been scaled proportionally to the number of people who live in that area.

This figure is in scalable vector graphics (SVG) format. It might not work in some very old web browsers.

West Midlands Police have more active Twitter accounts than any other force, which befits the force that has been tweeting longer than any other. They’re followed by Leicestershire Constabulary and Sussex Police — all three have over 100 officers or teams on Twitter. At the other end of the scale are Dyfed Powys Police and Merseyside Police — with two accounts each — and Bedfordshire Police (the second-to-last English force to join Twitter) with just one active account (@bedspolice).

In some ways it’s unfair to consider the number of accounts each force has when there is a 38-fold difference in size between the largest force (@metpoliceuk) and the smallest one (@warkspolice). To account for this, the map above shows the number of active accounts each force has per 1,000 police officers and community support officers it has. This changes the top three — now Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Sussex — but Bedfordshire, Dyfed Powys and Merseyside all stay in the bottom five. Merseyside Police stands out in particular, since it is the fifth-largest force in Great Britain.

Not all Twitter accounts opened by forces are still being used (i.e. they’ve sent at least one tweet in the past month). Eleven forces use all the accounts they’ve created, while Bedfordshire is only using one of its three accounts (@BedsChSuptMike and @LutonPoliceInsp haven’t been used for several months). Among the five forces with the most accounts, Twitter seems to have become a fixture — they’re all still using more than 85% of the accounts created.

Looking at the proportion of accounts still active gives some insight into the different strategies that forces have used for engaging with Twitter. Some forces, such as Northumbria Police, have only opened accounts for police districts or large teams. These tend to be updated frequently, perhaps because they’re managed by media relations officers. Other forces, such as Tayside Police (now part of Police Scotland) and Northamptonshire Police, opened a large number of accounts for individual officers. Some of these are updated very often (Northamptonshire’s PC Nick Price — @NorpolFootball — often sends more tweets than anyone else in the police service), while other officers struggle with their accounts and stop using them (fewer than half of Tayside Police accounts are still in use). The Tayside strategy is much more risky, not only because officers might stop tweeting but also because they might say something inappropriate, but in my opinion individual accounts are much more engaging than corporate ones. Being more engaging may be reflected in the number of followers each account gets: the average number of followers for Northumbria’s district accounts is only slightly higher than for Tayside’s active individual accounts, even though those districts cover much larger populations than the individuals do.

The next post I’ll do on Twitter will be a more detailed look at who is tweeting for each force, broken down by rank and specialisation. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions than please add them below.