24 hours with Greater Manchester Police, on Twitter (#gmp24)

Greater Manchester Police has been running a social media experiment today, broadcasting details of all emergency (999) calls via a number of Twitter accounts managed by support staff. Using the hash tag #gmp24, the official accounts were named @gmp24_1, @gmp24_2 and @gmp24_3. It’s a bold move – but also an excellent example of using social media to demonstrate the type of calls that Greater Manchester Police receives.

In a statement on the official GMP website, Chief Constable, Peter Fahy said:

“Policing is often seen in very simple terms, with cops chasing robbers and locking them up. However the reality is that this accounts for only part of the work they have to deal with.

A lot of what we do is dealing with social and health problems such as missing children, people with mental health problems and domestic abuse.

[…] There needs to be more focus on how the public sector as a whole is working together to tackle society’s issues and problems.

We see time and again the same families, the same areas and the same individuals causing the same problems and these people are causing a considerable drain to the public purse.”

A Manchester Evening News analysis of calls between 5am and noon, showed that a large number of calls received by the police are non-emergency, or “social work”.  For another view, see this Wordle showing a sample of 500 “emergency” calls.

Inevitably though, the spoof accounts opened up – two, in particular (@gmp24_0 and @gmp24_9) had some hilarious updates exploiting Police stereotypes, but also providing welcome amusement. Greater Manchester Police were less impressed, asking spoof account operators to change their avatars as use of the official Police crest was a copyright infringement… it seemed a little heavy handed at first but, on reflection it’s no different to any other organisation protecting its brand.

Another amusing event was that, despite using multiple accounts to avoid Twitter’s anti-spam measures, the official accounts found themselves in “Twitter Jail”, resulting in some more humorous exchanges as followers commented that jail (sic) is intended as a method of rehabilitation and creating new accounts is not the answer!

In all seriousness though, the event (which started at 5am today and will complete at 5am tomorrow) has exposed some of the inner workings of a busy urban Police service and, whilst critics may question this use of public funds to “play around with social media” at a time of public service cutbacks, there is another view: by exposing the types of calls received by 999 operators, it would be nice to think that Greater Manchester Police may actually save money in the medium-term through better public education (a standardised national number for non-emergency calls to the Police might save even more…).

Personally, I’m impressed by Greater Manchester Police’s remarkable openness and innovative use of social media – it might not save them from inevitable budget cuts, but it can do their image no harm either.

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