Police a mobile unit as The Bill starts tweeting

South Yorkshire Police tweeters Insp Simon Wanless and Insp Julie Mitchell at Barnsley Police Station
South Yorkshire Police tweeters Insp Simon Wanless and Insp Julie Mitchell at Barnsley Police Station

CRIMINALS are used to doing bird... now police are getting used to tweeting as part of their day-to-day duties on patrol in South Yorkshire.

Bobbies in Barnsley staged a 12-hour trial tweeting marathon, using the social network Twitter to keep ‘followers’ informed of the jobs they were dealing with and the incidents being reported.

And the snapshot of a typical day in the life of South Yorkshire Police proved so successful that tweeting could now become a permanent part of officers’ day-to-day duties.

“We had response officers tweeting about every incident they were going to and we had officers in the cells and at Barnsley’s football game telling people what they were doing, too,” said Barnsley’s District Commander Andy Brook.

“We have got to embrace new technology - I have been an officer for 30 years and find this really exciting.”

In total the Barnsley officers issued 397 tweets during their 12 hours online.

District Commander Brook said the new form of communicating had “opened the door on policing” - giving local residents a real insight into what police officers do day in, day out.

He said plans are now being drawn up for another Twitterthon and that officers may eventually end up tweeting routinely as part of their everyday policing work to improve links with the community they serve.

“We are really delighted with the way the Twitterthon went,” he said.

“It is the first time South Yorkshire Police has ever tried it and we are one of the first forces in the country to do so. We found it improved our level of engagement with the public and really opened the doors to policing.

“It gave people a real insight into modern day policing and its complexities.”

He said his long term aim was to have the majority of Barnsley residents ‘following’ his officers’ messages on Twitter, not only to find out what the police are doing but to make the force aware of the issues of concern needing to be tackled.

And he said that, because ‘tweets’ are so quick to post instantly online, they did not tie up officers’ time or prove difficult to type during the course of a day.

“It also did not cost us anything, and officers were able to do it as part of their normal working day because it is so quick to tweet,” District Commander Brook said.

“So we will do it on a regular basis and, who knows, maybe even permanently if we take it to the next level.

“We have to look at how we can take it on, because I want most people in Barnsley to be following us on Twitter, so they know what we are doing and so they can tell us what they want from us.”

Tweets included messages from officers giving details on road collisions, and updates on how a policing operation was going in and around Oakwell Football Stadium. Officers also issued crime prevention advice, such as warnings not to leave valuables in cars.

And the communication feed proved to be a two-way street - more than 90 incidents were also reported to police by the public during the course of the Twitterthon.