Written by By Tommy Holt, CNN
The 43,000 teens who follow Essex police on Instagram aren’t just talking to them about bad manners or anti-social behaviour.
They’re also receiving education on how to stay safe in public spaces, the use of body cameras and mobile banking from the force, which is handling its response to a surge in smartphone use in Essex.
On top of the Snapchat and Instagram pages @essexpolice and @policeonetown, the force has its own dedicated Twitter account, @EmergencyR1News.
The Essex Police Instagram account and Twitter account Credit: Essex Police
And it’s this last tool that is receiving the most attention, with almost 2,000 tweets sent to the police during 2018.
“Of course we’re concerned with safety,” said Ian Riley, director of communications for Essex Police. “I’m not making it our role to police your tweets or to do what you like with them. We’ve quite robust rules on what we’ll and won’t say and we follow that even with Instagram and Snapchat.”
It’s a popular approach — some 85% of all police forces in the UK have started their own Instagram account, according to @PolicingProfiles — and one praised by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
“Instagram can be the most valuable source of information about new trends, criminal activity and opportunities for crime prevention, particularly for police,” Mark Wood, ACPO Chief Constable, said in a statement.
“Instagram is not just an online photo sharing service, it has also evolved as a community platform for communication and support.”
Internet education in the UK Credit: iStock
Sensitizing young people
Essex Police has also drawn on its @EmergencyR1News Twitter account — which has more than 41,000 followers — to educate young people in Essex about how to avoid online exploitation.
But not all the force’s social media channels are geared towards education, with one account asking people to tell ‘Metres for Wine’ — a parody of the London Marathon — how much they’ve raised. Another shows footage of a police officer apparently burning cigarettes in a coffee machine.
The officers “have learnt that joking around with our audience at face value will not work; people are increasingly savvy and get a real sense of our officers and how we get on with them,” Riley said.
Fridays are the police’s busiest days for arrests Credit: R/B/for Essex Police/PA Wire
But is this all just part of a police initiative to reach out to a younger generation perceived to be disrespectful and prone to taking on society’s duties? Or is the move here trying to “joke around” with young people — and even exploit their public profile — just something the force wants to do?
“Any time you’re showing a younger audience an element of what policing is and will be, you have to do it in a positive way,” Riley said. “We have people in our crews who are in their 30s and 40s and it’s all to do with how much we love our jobs and we want to pass on that enthusiasm.”