WhatsApp Abbeville Road!

I’m excited to report that from today (Friday 18 December 2015) local residents of the Abbeville Road area and Clapham Common Ward can contact their local policing team via WhatsApp. The number is 07920233839, if you want to add us on WhatsApp now!

We recommend you save this number (07920233839 and also 0208 721 2623) as as a contact named ‘Clapham Common SNT’ (SNT = Safer Neighbourhood Team) in your phone.

To get maximum benefit send us a simple message with your name (or business name), streetname and house/flat number and we will add you to a WhatsApp group for your street. You can read more about the benefit of Groups below.

As with any WhatsApp group you can leave at any time. The account is not monitored 24/7 , we work shifts, sometimes have days off (shock-horror!), etc. so we might not be as quick (or as chatty!) as your preferred WhatsApp contacts!

It is only a trial at the moment, but we haven’t set an end-date, so it is open-ended for now.

Firstly, and most importantly, always report crime via 101 or 999 in an emergency

We aren’t able to accept crime reports at present via WhatsApp and we want you to receive the best possible service so please do always call 101 in the first instance or 999 in an emergency to report.

I’ll say that again.

We aren’t able to accept crime reports at present via WhatsApp and we want you to receive the best possible service so please do always call 101 in the first instance or 999 in an emergency to report.

However, what WhatsApp does mean is that it is far easier for residents and local businesses to get in touch where they might have previously had to call or email – or where they might (sadly) have decided to do neither!

WhatsApp Groups for Streets, Blocks and Estates

We are also looking at using WhatsApp groups to create ‘Virtual Watches’ for streets and specific areas. This means that we can push out messages more quickly to residents in a specific area and also provides them with a readily accessible means of, for example, alerting their own neighbours to suspicious activity.

I also hope that these groups might help strengthen community ties and even help foster a sense of guardianship over an area – helping to reduce crime. Where these groups may already exist, you are welcome to invite us to join.

WhatsApp Groups for Local Businesses

We also know that local businesses sometimes share information regarding criminal activity and so we also see potential benefits to having groups for local businesses on and around Abbeville Road to share information and to receive information from police.

Why have you chosen WhatsApp?

For anyone left asking, why are you choosing to use WhatsApp? It’s pretty simple really. It’s free (at least for the first year for everyone – including us), it has become very popular, and it has taken us only a few minutes to setup.

While it’s not without risk, we see the trial as being a worthwhile endeavour to help better connect with our local residents and businesses. We’ve sought to reinforce the key message (that this does not replace 101 or 999 and that the account is not monitored 24/7) by incorporating the message within our WhatsApp avatar and using the ‘Status’ field in our profile.

whatsapp

It sounds like a neat idea, but won’t you just be glued to your phone instead of catching criminals?

Well, there is only one way to find out. It may be that WhatsApp is too “noisy” and it becomes unmanageable for us to use as an effective digital channel. On the other hand, with clear messaging and the right stewardship from police and residents, it could prove to be a very useful and effective means of communication.

Rest assured, as many residents who know me will testify, I love being out and about on the beat, so I won’t be letting our trial hamper that!

So what’s inspired this?

Along with the general desire to cut crime and build links with the public, a couple of things:

  • Firstly, the excellent work of the British Transport Police (@BTP) with their text-line (61016) crime and anti-social behaviour reporting service. If you haven’t heard of it and you use public transport (trains and tubes) then please do add them to your phone book too. You simply text them about the problem (and of course calling 999 in an emergency as always!). A superb example of making communication easier – and the public safer!
  • Secondly, several conversations with residents and others who remain keen to find out more about what is going on in their area and to help police keep them, their families, their homes and their streets safe.
  • Thirdly, some conversations with key individuals (you will likely know who you are!) who are generous with their time, empowering with their advice and – whether they wear a kitbelt or not – do the public of London a great service.

In closing, we’d welcome your thoughts on the trial (claphamcommon.snt@met.police.uk) and will be doing our best to share the fact that we are on WhatsApp when we are out and about and during routine encounters. While it won’t suit everyone, we think it is a worthwhile addition to our range of digital communication channels – and at the very least worth a trial!

About the Author

PC Rory Geoghegan
I was the Dedicated Ward Officer for Clapham Common Ward in the London Borough of Lambeth until May 2016. I’m a former strategy consultant and criminal justice researcher. As a Dedicated Ward Officer I was something of a foot and cycle patrol fanatic! All views expressed are/were personal opinions and the usual disclaimers apply.

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