Less Crime

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.

@MentalHealthCop deleted from Twitter

The blog and Twitter account of Inspector Michael Brown, better known as @MentalHealthCop, have been suspended by West Midlands Police while they investigate potential broaches of their social-media policy.

Obviously they have to investigate allegations made to them, although I would be surprised if any harm done out-weighed the great benefit of Inspector Brown’s blogging and tweeting both for the police service and for public understanding of how the police deal with mental health. West Midlands Assistant Chief Constable Garry Forsyth is tweeting about the case:

It’s really interesting to see a senior officer responding to criticism like this, and another example of why social media are becoming important police communication tools.

For the record, up until yesterday, @MentalHealthCop was the most-followed official individual UK police officer account on Twitter, with more than 16,000 followers. This is more followers than the official force accounts for 11 police forces in England and Wales (Bedfordshire Police, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Cleveland Police, Dorset Police, Durham Constabulary, Dyfed Powys Police, Gloucestershire Police, Humberside Police, Suffolk Police, Warwickshire Police and Wiltshire Police) and 4,000 more followers than any other individual officer in the UK (@HantsPCMark). Looking just at West Midlands Police, @MentalHealthCop had more than double the followers of any other officer (the next most popular is @SuptPayneWMP) and more followers than every division in the force except for @brumpolice. I’ve blogged about his supremacy of the police Twittersphere before, but recently he seems to have become even more popular: he’s gained more followers in the past six months (4,800) than most UK police Twitter accounts have in total.

While West Midlands Police investigate the allegations against Inspector Brown, they have stopped access to both his blog and Twitter account. This could be very damaging because both were widely recognised sources of information about policing and mental health, and particularly useful for officers struggling to deal with difficult or unfamiliar mental-health incidents. Fortunately, the Internet Archive has a version of the blog from 10 February. To provide a Twitter equivalent, I’ve put all @MentalHealthCop’s tweets for the past six months as a Google spreadsheet.

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):