My First Blue Light Camp

So, it was a busy weekend – made complete by a trip up to Manchester for the inaugural #BlueLightCamp. The event had an eclectic and interesting mix of practitioners, researchers, social media gurus and designers from across each of the blue light services. I checked the attendee list in advance of heading north, and while the #policing input was a little lighter than I’d expected, the day did not disappoint.

After an inauspicious start, I was pleased to find myself in sunny Manchester and in the company of Christine Townsend (@SC2221) for the short ride into the city centre. We started talking social media, and more besides, en route to the venue.

We arrived to find a very slick venue and a few goodies (a mug and t-shirt) waiting for us. Events got underway fairly swiftly and after some brief introductions and stating (in three words) our goals/interests for the day, the unconference commenced.

My three words, were connectingpublic and police. I like to think Sir Robert Peel would have been pleased, not least since he is widely accepted as having said something along the following lines:

“The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare”

Consequently, I did my best to attend those sessions that touched on this big idea. The first session also excited the historian in me, with @LloydDavis kindly laying on a screening of “The Man On The Beat” (11mins, B&W, 1945 – BFI Listing) to get the discussion going. It was a short film, discussing why the local bobby on the beat in England is an authority to be trusted and relied upon.

The film featured scenes of extensive training: first aid, water-based lifesaving, law in the classroom. It also portrayed the officer at his first parade, presenting his appointments for inspection and acknowledging his assigned beat. It’s not too difficult to imagine the awesome responsibility that comes, having sworn an oath, on that very first shift and when pen first touches the virgin paper of the pocket notebook.

Of course, today things are not so simple: the PACE Codes of Practice, never mind the rest of the vast mountain of legislation (and offences) that has been created since then. It’s also easier to forget that since 1945, we’ve seen the merging of forces and the ever-tightening grip of the Home Office on Chief Constables, Police Authorities and much else besides. In any case, a healthy discussion was had, with @LloydDavis, myself, @PolFedforNI and others. The debate touched on the issue of whether officers should live where they police and how it might be possible to place the beat bobby in a more modern context.

The discussion set the scene nicely – in my mind, anyway – to begin my own session. The topic I wanted to explore was how social media (and related technology) might allow for positive behaviours to be rewarded and encouraged, while providing some disincentive against those behaviours we’d all rather see less of. I was pleased to be joined by a great group of fellow BLcampers, including towards the end by @TheCustodySgt, and so we began.

We discussed how it might be possible to create a dialogue off the back of unsuccessful? “Stop and Search” encounters (i.e. those that yield no result, such as no arrest). Would it be feasible or desirable to offer an opt-in email or other communication that would show how stop and search in the area was being used to target crime, making use of existing open-data on local crime? Or perhaps there might be a way to ‘gami-fy’ proceedings so that there might be some positivity to the experience (however hard some might find that to believe)? For those who are struggling, consider the Dutch speed camera lottery:

It wasn’t all Stop and Search-related, with the discussion touching on how cops might be encouraged out of their cars and out onto the street, on foot. This would, of course, serve the advantages of making them more visible and providing a chance to talk to the public, the law-abiding public, and to work on building extra community links. All reasons that Officer Stephen Jett of Fayetteville Police Department lays out in this short video:

Plenty of discussion was also had around the pros and cons of using and/or publishing GPS plot data for vehicles and individual officers, so as to both reassure the public but also drive better policing outcomes.

Needless to say we didn’t get to the definitive answer, but it was a good debate and discussion, with plenty of food for thought. I’ll certainly be looking at this in more detail in the weeks and months ahead – and would welcome contact from any #BLCampers, or indeed anyone who wasn’t able to make it, who might be interested in this topic. In particular, it would be great to hear from #police who have views to share on the preceding, including “Stop and Search” and the public’s number one complaint: the “incivility” of a minority of police officers.

In closing, the inaugural #BlueLightCamp of 2012 appears to have gone off without a hitch – and, in addition to the great sessions, it was good to meet so many new people and to put names, voices and more to so many tweeters. It was also really great to catch up with some familiar faces, including Mike Alderson (@OpenEyeComms) and the NPIA’s very own Nick Keane (@NickKeane). I’m also looking forward to finding out more about what happened in some of those sessions I wasn’t able to make it along to. Something you too can do thanks to John Popham‘s ‘Bambusering’ of some of the sessions.

In closing, I would just like to end this post with a big thank you to Sasha Taylor (@Sasha_Taylor), Paul Coxon (@PaulCoxon81), Ben Proctor (@LikeAWord) and David White (@Beaker9) and everyone else who made it such a memorable day.

This is a re-blogged post from my old (now defunct) blog RoryGeo on Crime & Justice.

About the Author

Rory Geoghegan
I am the former Dedicated Ward Officer for Clapham Common Ward in the London Borough of Lambeth. I’m a former strategy consultant and criminal justice researcher. I care deeply about the importance of effective policing and am something of a foot and cycle patrol fanatic! All views expressed are personal opinions and the usual disclaimers apply.

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