Published On: 17 June 2014
Organisation: The Reykjavík metropolitan police (RMP)
Level of government: Central government
Sector: Public order and safety
Type: Communication, Digital
Launched in: 2010
This innovation increases the safety and feeling of safety of the population who the Reykjavík metropolitan police (RMP) serves. One of the tools used is social media in policing; using social media to establish a connection between the public and the police to create a dialogue. This enables the police to create a medium where direct communication with the public is possible, especially with regard to the dissemination of information and public engagement.
In December 2010 RMP created its Facebook site and subsequently the RMP's Twitter site. These two sites were run for a few months by the police chief and one employee. Subsequently moderators were added, giving more employees a chance to respond and maintain the site. In 2012 a full time employee was designated to the project since the sites then had over 20 000 subscribers.
After that, several more social media sites have been opened and social media has been embedded in ever growing numbers of policing tasks.
Whenever a matter comes in through social media that cannot be answered straight away, it is analysed and sent to the appropriate department, local police station or any other means that the RMP has available.
Develop staff capacity, Enhance public trust, Enhance transparency, Improve access, Improve effectiveness, Improve efficiency, Improve service quality, Improve user satisfaction, Increase citizen engagement
Civil Society, General population, Government staff
The population that the Reykjavík metropolitan police serves, in total is 201 000 people (total population of metropolitan area, 1 January 2013).
Many police forces across the world have developed means of communicating with people through social media, but not to the extent used in Iceland. Many police forces in the United Kingdom use social media, both Twitter and Facebook and were using social media in 2010 when the RMP´s project started.
The RMP has been at the forefront – reaching a very large audience with regard to the population it serves.
The project offers a good opportunity to improve service with little or no cost added, thereby being a very cost effective way of increasing the effects of visible policing, added citizen engagement and a means of communication between the public and the police.
During a snow storm in March 2013, one of the news items posted on the RMP's Facebook wall was read by 19 000 readers in 19 minutes. This means that almost 10% of the area’s population read this message from the police within a very short time span.
The innovation has led to certain queries regarding police conduct, whereas many misunderstandings of police tactics have been cleared up and explained. This has also generated more trust towards the police since the public now has a channel in which it can relay information regarding incidents where the police did not operate appropriately and thereby giving them a chance to relay back that they were not satisfied with the service. Hearing these remarks makes for a stronger police in the long run.
Communication is extremely important for the police and the citizens it serves. Social media has opened a portal in which these dialogues can take place. This gives the public an opportunity to speak to and hear from its police force, which makes a stronger relationship. What has been extremely powerful are the large amounts of compliments towards the police and individual police officers, which shows police officers and other members of the public, how strong the relationship really is.
Evaluation is on-going and continuous since the project is a pilot-project. On-going evaluation is partly done by monitoring the efficiency of posts that are sent out, viewer numbers and public reaction to what is posted.
A private administrator group was created on Facebook where the administrators can speak among themselves, discussing areas such as how to tackle various problems that come up. This is extremely important seeing that the speed of communication does not allow for a long response time and waiting for face time with the admin group would take far too long. The group was also equipped with tablets with a wireless broadband connection so that they could easily maintain the sites both in the field but also from wherever they were situated, the tablets being easy to use and also an incentive for employees who were adding on to their workload.
The idea was brought up on a meeting between the police chief and a detective, both sharing an idea of using social media for policing. As a result the RMP's police chief decided to start watching what other police forces were doing and consequently set up the first facebook account, which started the project.Design time: 3 months
An incremental approach was used by taking small steps, but always ready to take a few steps back if needed.
The first step towards the innovation was to establish the RMP's facebook site, which was done in December 2010 and subsequently the RMP's Twitter site. These two sites were run for a few months by the police chief and one employee, setting the voice to be used in future relationships and establishing a model in which future members of the social media group could refer. Subsequently, moderators were added, giving more employees a chance to respond and maintain the site. The administrator group was expanded to 12 people with different roles (post on topics related to their daily work, moderate discussions, post press releases etc.).Testing time: 3 months
Since the project was run across the regular hierarchy, with officers whose ranks range from constable to police commissioner, each person’s superiors were informed that they were taking part in a project under the direct supervision of the police commissioner. This gave them the freedom to speak and reply in accordance with the philosophy of the project, importantly without having to go through the regular chain of command. In many ways this has been critical in the project’s success since police usually have very strict guidelines as to whom, why and when police will speak publicly and to the media. All members were told that they had the fullest trust of the police commissioner to use their best judgment in replying on behalf of the institution. In practice, this has proven to be elemental in maintaining a short response time and answers that are in essence free of traditionally bureaucratic responses.
In hindsight, one of the interesting sides of the project and probably one that has made it successful is that social media was used to enhance other aspects of policing; to improve service and to enhance the public's perception of visible policing. It was not put in place to act as a substitute or by replacing other types of services but rather to give them more tools to do their job in a more efficient way.
A crucial factor was the fact that the head of the RMP, the police chief, was a turning force behind the project and so deeply embedded from the get-go. This installed an atmosphere amongst the group that they were trusted to respond, thereby shortening response times and installing a sense of a personal atmosphere since the responses sent were less formal in their nature.
It's not enough trying out innovative ideas, they must be put in a particular structure that gives them a chance to provide a steady service but also be flexible so that latest developments in social media are taken into account. Even though facebook is currently the biggest medium in the social media project, it will probably not be around forever. Exactly for that reason, a full time position was started to run the social media outfit, both to manage it from day to day but not least to keep an eye open for other possibilities that might be out there.