There was a really interesting experiment on Twitter yesterday by the Greater Manchester Police force, for 24 hours it tweeted a summary of every single call it received. Done across three twitter accounts, @GMP24_1, @GMP24_2 and @GMP24_3 and also supported by its main twitter account, @GMPolice.
The purpose of the experiment was to demonstrate to a wider audience exactly what the Police do on a day to day basis. As GMP Chief Constable Peter Fahy explained:
“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. Often these incidents can be incredibly complex and need a lot of time, resource and expertise.
“I am not saying that we shouldn’t deal with these types of incidents, far from it, but what I am saying is that this work is not recognised in league tables and measurements – yet is a huge part of what we do.
“I think that it’s time to start measuring performance in a different way. 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.
The experiment caused not a little controversy, people questioned if it was a good use of resource, if the account was automated and what the actual point was. I had my own reservations, through friends in different forces around the country I know that fear of crime can be almost a big an issue as crime itself and so a 24 hour stream of crime consciousness, even one highlighting the non-criminal work the police get called in for, was perhaps not the best idea.
I was also particularly both impressed and unimpressed by the use of three distinct accounts. Impressed as this shows planning as the team behind it obviously knew the volume of tweets would run foul of Twitter’s update limits. Unimpressed as Im not sure the example set by switching accounts every time one got suspended, or ‘Twit Jailed’ as the @GMP24_x team called it, was a good one. As someone pointed out to them, the account suspension is meant to a punitive measure, not a reminder to switch your base of activity.
Thos reservations aside, today the point is clear, it has raised huge amounts of press coverage from around the world, highlighting that the much like the ambulance service, people will call the Police for the most trivial of matters. Whether it will actually change anything remains to be seen I’m not sure the people who call the police because there is a rat in their house are self-aware enough to take notice. I’m equally not sure that it wil have any impact on the impending cuts.
All in all, while flawed, it pushed the boundaries of how Twitter can be used and provided some good blog and MSM fodder.