Less Crime

Routine Activities and Proactive Police Activity

I have a new paper out with Lisa Tompson at UCL called ‘Routine Activities and Proactive Police Activity: A Macro-scale Analysis of Police Searches in London and New York City’. This has been really fun to do and shows how most of the variation in stops and searches in London and New York during the year is associated with temporal rhythms such as days of the week, public holidays and special events.

The paper is open access thanks to support from UCL and we’ve already had some good feedback from senior police officers. The abstract is:

This paper explored how city-level changes in routine activities were associated with changes in frequencies of police searches using six years of police records from the London Metropolitan Police Service and the New York City Police Department. Routine activities were operationalised through selecting events that potentially impacted on (a) the street population, (b) the frequency of crime or (c) the level of police activity. GLS regression results indicated that routine activity variables (e.g. day of the week, periods of high demand for police service) can explain a large proportion of the variance in search frequency throughout the year. A complex set of results emerged, revealing cross-national dissimilarities and the differential impact of certain activities (e.g. public holidays). Importantly, temporal frequencies in searches are not reducible to associations between searches and recorded street crime, nor changes in on-street population. Based on the routine activity approach, a theoretical police-action model is proposed.

More Twitter maps

I’ve made available three more live-ish Twitter maps, to add to the Met Police map that I published last year.

The NPAS Twitter Map is for the National Police Air Service. This shows the most recent tweet by each police helicopter in England and Wales (the Police Scotland helicopter doesn’t have a Twitter feed). Police air-support Twitter feeds are really useful for finding out why a helicopter is keeping you awake, and they’re also a good source of aerial pictures (particularly @NPASLondon and @NPAS_Redhill).

The British Transport Police Twitter Map shows the latest tweets by all of the local police teams for that force, and some of their senior officers. I chose them as the second force to create a map for because most of their accounts specify the station that the account is based at, so its easy to post them on a map.

The London Police Twitter Map shows all the police Twitter accounts in London, including those run by the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police, British Transport Police, National Crime Agency and NPAS. There are loads of them so it might take a minute to load all the tweets.

All the maps update every five minutes and tweets from the past hour are marked with a larger icon.

Met Police Twitter map

As part of my interest in how UK police use Twitter, I’ve added a live-ish map showing all the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Twitter accounts and the most recent tweet from each account. The map updates every five minutes and automatically highlights the most-recent tweet and all accounts that have sent a tweet in the past hour.

Although the map is live-ish, to keep down calls to the Twitter API tweets are cached on a local server and then put on the map. This means that, depending on when you load the map you might not get the very latest tweets immediately.

At present I’ve only done this for the MPS because I have to geocode all the accounts manually and that takes time. I’ve geocoded borough and neighbourhood accounts to the geographic centre of the area that they serve, which may occasionally suggest an officer is based in the middle of a park (although I seem to have avoided any locations being in lakes). The main MPS account (@metpoliceuk) is geocoded to New Scotland Yard, @MPSinthesky to their base at Lippitts Hill, @MPSonthewater to their base at Wapping, @MPSSTC to their headquarters at Palestra in Blackfriars and @MetPoliceEvents to the Special Operations Room (or, in Daily-Mail speak, “secret bunker”) on Lambeth Road.

I couldn’t geocode some accounts such as @MPSOntheStreet, @MPSFootballUnit, @MPSSpecials, @CdrRodhouseMPS, @CdrLetchfordMPS and @BJH251 because they either don’t have a single base or I don’t know where they’re based. If you have locations for any of these accounts, please let me know on Twitter.

I haven’t tested the map on anything older than Internet Explorer 8, so if you’re using an old browser then browse happy (or ask your IT department to upgrade their software).

Statistics for UK police on Twitter

As part of my (sporadic and casual) work on how the UK police use Twitter, I’ve now set up a mini site so that people can see some basic statistics for all the official police Twitter accounts in the UK. The site is at lesscrime.info/policetweets/stats. You can filter the data in various ways to compare accounts in different parts of the country or relating to different types of policing. For example you can see all the Twitter accounts belonging to West Midlands Police, which chief constable has the most followers or which police helicopter was the first to respond to noise complaints via Twitter.

UK police: who has the most followers on Twitter?

As of this week, 1.37 million Twitter users are following at least one UK police Twitter account. Assuming they’re all in the UK (which is difficult to determine, but I’m slowly working on it) that’s 2.5% of the population aged 10 years or over. Twitter claims about 10 million users in the UK1, so more than one-in-ten appear to be following at least one police account.

Bearing in mind how difficult it can be for the police to communicate with communities (particularly with the decline of local newspapers), these are pretty impressive numbers. Communicating on Twitter is also free, bar the cost of any training that particular forces might use.

UK police on Twitter

Thanks to lists of UK police officers and staff on Twitter kept by Nick Keane from the College of Policing, I’ve created a page at lesscrime.info/policetweets showing the latest police tweets, most recent officers to join Twitter, most prolific tweeters and most popular feeds.

Social media has become a big deal within the police. Nick’s lists include more than 1,500 officers and staff, from chief constables down to beat officers, as well police dogs (e.g. @suspoldogunit) and horses (@WYPHorses). Most accounts send out updates on local crime and policing, but there are specialist officers as well: several helicopter units (@MPSinthesky, @WMP_Helicopter) live-tweet their operations to prevent complaints from residents about noise.

Standing apart from them all is the perfectly genuine @SolihullPolice, who have managed to get 27,000 followers—many of them far from Solihull—thanks to tweets like this, which got 22,000 retweets:

Every UK force is now on Twitter, but not all are taking the same approach. Some, such as Greater Manchester and West Midlands, have fully embraced the medium by setting up accounts for officers and staff at all levels. Others have been more cautious: the Met only started experimenting with accounts for individual officers (starting with @MPSBatterseaSgt and @MPSFaradaySgt) earlier this year.

At the moment UK police are sending about 2,800 tweets each day. I’m storing the tweets from Nick’s list in a database, so after a year or so I should have a database large enough to have taken up all my server space be useful for analysing different aspects of how the police use Twitter. @Alistair_Leak has already suggested using lists of followers to estimate how an officer’s followers compare to their local communities. Suggestions for other questions that could be answered with this data are welcome in the comments or—naturally—on Twitter: @lesscrime.

I’ll leave you with another gem from @SolihullPolice (I promise they do serious tweets too):

Comparing rates of custody and non-custody deaths

The police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria, former solicitor-general Vera Baird, recently announced that she will “take any necessary action” following the death of two men in a week in Northumbria Police custody. The announcement is, of course, a good thing: part of the role of PCCs is to set the local police budget, so if any changes are needed she will be able to fund them.

Baird is right to reassure her constituents, but is two deaths in a week necessarily cause for them to be concerned? One answer to this question is to say that “even one death in police custody is too many” but (given that a lot of people get arrested) that may not be realistic. A more useful question to ask might be: how many deaths in police custody would we expect if the fact of a person being arrested had no bearing on their death? Another way of thinking of this: how many people who die in police custody were going to die even if they weren’t in custody?