Policing in the Age of Social Media


A decade ago, an Accenture survey found that less than a fifth of UK respondents were aware of the police using digital channels. Since then, further research has found that public awareness of police use of social channels has increased – along with public expectations.

Fast forward to 2022, and the majority of us carry our lives in our cell phones. There is a 24/7/365 availability expectation. Is it possible that police communications will be ubiquitous on digital channels? Is there an opportunity for automation to improve human interactions between citizens and police?

Paul Lockyer, Accenture consultant and former police officer, thinks so. Accenture has studied trends in public safety, threat and risk, he explains:

Digital trends are making their way into public safety. Certainly, in the police services, there is a problem of trust. An important aspect of this element of trust is public expectations – they are very different from what they used to be. But through all of these trends, there’s a social media theme that stands out because no matter the crime, at some point in that crime, it will have hit the digital world and it probably hit social media.

Tweet from nine to five

According to Lockyer, a number of forces already have personnel reviewing social media, but those resources are limited to particular shifts. It doesn’t help someone who goes to Twitter with a 3 a.m. emergency. Real-time information is needed. Rosie Anderson, Salesforce Front Office Transformation Lead (UKI, Accenture), identified some of the challenges.

Collaboration and continuity – a holistic vision of the citizen. From resourcing to triage, police forces that want to get the most out of social media must collaborate across multiple teams and shifts. An agent can take a call but must then end their shift. Visibility is extremely important, which means an audit trail of communications across different channels. As Anderson points out:

Understanding the citizen with a holistic view is not limited to case by case, it is about understanding that sometimes people, especially those in vulnerable positions, communicate much more regularly on different channels.

Real-time information and metrics. Twenty years ago, Lockyer recalls, borough crews received 400 emergency calls and more than 1,000 less serious inquiries for 90 officers in one shift. Consider omnichannel, and what does that look like for a sergeant running a control room? He argues:

It means making impactful decisions about where to rejuvenate people, where I need to improve my skills. This could change from force to force depending on how their community looks.

Find the Signals in the Noise with Proactive Communication. Anderson cites that the challenge here is to take technologies like the Salesforce platform and use them to “automate to elevate the human.” There are some things that can be done in real time without having someone sort it out, she says:

For many organizations, they need to be on multiple channels. Creating channel-independent inbound routing is very important for controlling and managing inbound content. Police see people retweeting their postcodes to share important information. In the current setup that produces multiple notifications but with automation, keywords can help determine if content is closed, shared, or used to monitor community needs and triaged. The information may be used to provide an experience on the actual physical beat so that we are able to provide a more meaningful experience.

unified future

What will policing in the future look like for officers, officers and citizens? Much more unified communications is an answer. For example, at Sussex Police, the Sprinklr unified communications offering is integrated with Service Cloud using Salesforce Connector. It is mapped to case management fields so that any cases that arrive on social media can be integrated into cases in the system, rather than creating new or separate ones.

Using omnichannel case management, the tool helps agents get a complete view of all the conversations a person may have had on different social channels when reporting an issue. It also gives the agent contextual instructions that they can use to respond.

The benefit of this is to ensure that there is access to a knowledge base with advice on how to interact in different situations. For example, a vulnerable citizen may be too scared or unable to call 999 or 911 or whatever, but may be able to message using social media. The vision also enables milestones and alerts for urgent cases requiring immediate attention. It also aggregates to provide a case history or a 360 degree view of a citizen.

The stakes here are higher than those generally encountered by omnichannel. For a police-to-citizen experience, this requires big shifts from traditional phone calls to social media conversations with priority keywords. Four hundred emergency calls at the start of a shift will look very different in this new vision.

Anderson describes the experience of a police colleague who includes tagging to help them see the severity levels of a case at a glance from the officer handling the call. Transfers can be shared across shifts with full case history in one place:

Individuals already expect this service from their utility company, their financial services company, their telephone company. This view of social media management and how it works in case management, creating a more holistic experience for individuals is going to be extremely important.

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