Why Police collaboration is like a rock band (and how new PCCs can avoid being the new member who splits the band up).

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/band-rock-band-music-concert-live-2167175/

With a record number of new PCCs elected in 2021 (and new ways of governing in some cases with new metro mayors), it is important that those new to policing take some time to understand how their force collaborates with others, and avoid ‘breaking up the band’ accidentally.

The American rock band Kiss has had 12 members, ACDC more than 20, yet most people still see them as a single cohesive entity, doing what they do well, and touring and releasing records that fans buy in the millions. Other groups fail to assimilate new members and new approaches, or fade into obscurity when key members move on. Some stars who were confident in their own ability fade into obscurity when trying their solo careers (see Mark Owen versus Robbie Williams from Take That for examples).
Being a PCC with responsibility for a collaboration is a bit like juggling a solo career in your main force, with all the fans who elected you to satisfy, at the same time as being a member of another group with different aims and objectives and musical styles. Here are some (only slightly tongue in cheek) thoughts about how to be less Yoko Ono and more Phil Collins in your approach to a new role in collaboration with other forces.

“When you’re in a band, you have to be part of the team. There’s something comforting about that. But in my solo career, I get to be the boss.” – Stevie Nicks

  1. It takes time to learn all the new music and fully understand what matters. This is alongside all the other things you will be trying to navigate as a new PCC sliding into an organisation alongside a load of people who already seem to be experts in everything you mentioned in your manifesto (hint – sometimes the experts are just defending the status quo). A collaboration is unlike any other way of doing business in policing – you have a blurred power arrangement with the other partner organisations and PCCs (and you will rapidly come to realise that all the power arrangements as a PCC are blurred!) That translates into much less outwardly robust performance measures, because if a collaboration delivers a successful outcome for one or two forces in a particular period that may mean that it does less for your force – that may be a good thing in the longer term, but with policing’s love of year-on-year performance metrics it may take some time to see the wood for the trees. Using my band analogy – who decides the direction you are taking, and what songs get on the album and setlist is critical, as is the role partners have in this decision. Insisting on performing your solo hit may be a risky strategy in a group made up of members who all have their own solo hits.
  2. Relationships and trust are crucial. As you are replacing a departing band member you may want to think about both your obvious role (replacing someone who was the bass guitarist or lead singer) as well as the hidden elements – to stretch the band analogy a bit further, are you the main lyricist or the guy who books the venues? Do you turn up and perform, or put some work in behind the scenes? Or are you going to start the fight so someone else will leave the band? Or maybe you want to take the band in a totally different direction? Consideration of relationships and spending the effort to deepen these beyond the merely transactional will pay dividends over time. Otherwise, the conversations deteriorate into who pays for what and the benefits they personally get from a particular approach, and you are more likley to achieve collaborative inertia than collaborative advantage .
  3. Not everyone can be in the spotlight at once. Collaboration is a joint approach with joint goals and objectives, but that means that at times the lead guitarist will have the spotlight, and at others the lead singer. There will be times in collaboration where for perfectly understandable reasons your role will be to provide the stability and support to the collaboration to enable others to shine and receive the input that they need. No one usually notices the drummer and bass player, but they play just as important a role in the overall sound, and eventually your time will come.

Final thoughts. Some bands have had their time and need to be broken up in order for members to move on to other things. This can be precipitated by events (after the death of Curt Cobain no one really expected Nirvana to continue, and Dave Grohl/ Foo Fighters have gone on to huge success in their own right), or simply that the time has come to stop (See Abba in the 1980s for example). If after consideration this is the case for your collaborative band, then take some time to do it right, because you never know when you might want to come back for a reunion in the future!

Final, final thoughts and a disclaimer – I am an avid music fan with eclectic tastes, but not all the artists mentioned here are necessarily to my taste. I am interested in your thoughts however – what music or artist best represents the challenge of police collaboration in your view – post your answers below!

(The next scheduled PCC elections are just over 2 years away – 2nd May 2024. Plenty of time for prospective candidates to consider their (musical) approach!)

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Dealing with cybercrime in isolation is a recipe for failure.

Justin Partridge, Leeds University Business School and Visiting Fellow at the Open University Centre for Policing Research and Learning.

April 2021

Police forces have wrestled with both new forms of crime and new ways of committing traditional crimes as digital and internet technologies have developed. In partnership with organisations such as the National Cyber Security Centre, they aim to keep the public safe from cybercrime, and to deal with cyber threats. Increasingly though police forces are caught in the centre of three issues. Firstly, the methods with which cybercriminals can commit crimes have become ever easier, with point and click tools to enable crime, and simple access to leaked personal data assisting those with criminal intent to access both victims and the tools to commit crime. Secondly the complexity of digital life has increased – most people have a smart phone, tablet or laptop, most families have gaming consoles, and all of these can be used to contact people and commit crimes, especially where security updates are often infrequent, and the public (and organisations) continue to use outdated technology and un-updated software. Finally, the threat of cybercrime spans a huge range; from state actors conducting large scales attacks, organised crime groups and fraudsters seeking better ways to achieve their goals, to individuals harassing and threatening others through social media sites.

This complex landscape is ever changing, and as fast as one tool, network or organised group is closed down or infiltrated, others emerge. New technologies are rapidly developed (often with little thought to security) and criminals are swift to adopt these as new vectors for attack (Holt 2010, Tange et al 2020, Sheridan 2021). An approach that fails to join up the skills, knowledge and resources of law enforcement, academic researchers and businesses is no longer fit for purpose in such an environment.

The N8 Policing Research Partnership is holding an event as part of the annual innovation forum looking at ways in which police can (and should) work with academic and private partners to address the issues around cybercrime. The event will also consider why non-police partners should be interested in such a partnership – what are the common areas of interest, how can data be shared effectively and legally, what are the practicalities of such a partnership and how might it be effective for the partners, the police and most importantly for the public.

Speakers will cover the above points as well as the challenges of engaging with small businesses, who are often both the target of cybercrime attacks as well as the source of personal customer data that can be sold on to facilitate attacks on individuals. If you are interested in a novel form of partnership spanning police, academics and businesses of all sizes, then this is an event that will propose one model of partnership, as well as identifying key challenges such as making security everyone’s business, getting some of the big players in technology and business to consider security implications, and where the boundaries of cybercrime currently lie (and critically where will they be in the future)?

Holt TJ. Examining the Role of Technology in the Formation of Deviant Subcultures. Social Science Computer Review. 2010;28(4):466-481. doi:10.1177/0894439309351344

K. Tange, M. De Donno, X. Fafoutis and N. Dragoni, A Systematic Survey of Industrial Internet of Things Security: Requirements and Fog Computing Opportunities.IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 2489-2520, Fourthquarter 2020, doi: 10.1109/COMST.2020.3011208.

Sheridan, O. The state of zero trust in the age of fluid working. Network Security, Volume 2021, Issue 2, 2021, Pages 15-17, ISSN 1353-4858, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1353-4858(21)00019-2.

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What’s in a name? Choosing your online name

There has been some online discussion over the past few months on the names people choose for social media accounts, and it got me thinking. A while ago there was confusion over who owned a Twitter name if the person using it moved organisations – do the followers stay with the organisation, or does the tweeter rename the account to reflect their new employer, and take the followers with them?

For most people this is a relatively small issue, as few of us have tens of thousands of followers, but it is worth thinking about – a disgruntled ex employee with even a few hundred followers could easily change their name to @’yourorganisation’sucks or similar, or misrepresent themselves as still working for you – appropriate policies  and clear guidelines on social media account ownership are worth thinking about up front.

Of course you don’t have to change your name when moving on, although for some people in the public eye this may cause consternation.

It is worth giving some serious thought to your user name in advance of registering it – unlike Netflix who created a new service called Qwikster, apparently unaware that the Twitter user of the same name was already active. Even worse that user described themselves as “a student who has among his interests’ women and recreational drug usage”.

Organisations may want to consider some form of naming policy- several of the police forces I have worked with have some form of standardised naming conventions such as NPTtownsville.  Others allow people to choose their own names, but again a little thought up front will save confusion and grief later on.

Services such as  namechk and knowem can help you check to see if your chosen name is available across a huge range of online sites. If you are stuck for ideas then Socialpuma has a range of sites that suggest names – some weirder than others.

Whatever name you do go for it should conform to a few basic rules:

  • keep it short – the 140 character limit on Twitter means that people find it hard to retweet (share) your thoughts and posts if your name is over about 15 characters.
  • keep it simple – an ideal name should describe you – either by name or function. If simple is not available, then go for memorable.
  •  try and keep consistent over all the social networks you use for the same purpose. People like to know that you are the same jsmith on Facebook as they have been following on Twitter.
  • Upper/lower case is irrelevant to Twitter, but JohnSmith is easier to read than johnsmith – even if they are both the same account.

One final note. My Twitter name is @jiiii. I  describe that as a ‘J’ and five ‘I’ s when telling people my name. Should I have gone for something a bit simpler (JPartridge for example)? Absolutely – but most obvious variations on my name have already gone. I leave you with one last thought – register your preferred names now whilst they are still available, and register them across any social media sites you are likely to use in the future. Most sites are free to register on, so go and do it now.



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What should a Police and Crime Commissioner do?

It is not that long now until Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are upon us – elections will be held on the 15th November 2012 – but there is still some confusion (and concern) over what this new role will do. In broad terms they have the powers of a Police Authority plus a few. Their powers are quite wide ranging, including budgets, and the hiring and firing of the Chief Constable. From the Home Office site: “PCCs will be able to set the priorities for the police force within their force area, respond to the needs and demands of their communities more effectively, ensure that local and national priorities are suitably funded by setting a budget and the local precept, and hold to account the local chief constable for the delivery and performance of the force.”

Vote for a good politician poster via PropagandaTimes on Flick'r

Vote for a good politician poster via

My question however, is slightly different. If you were to stand as a PCC (and at the time of writing only one person has gone on record stating that he wishes to do so) what would your manifesto be?

Ask that question of the general public and the answers might be obvious – more police officers on the beat, reduced bureaucracy, reduced costs, less crime… the list is probably predictable. However I hope that most intelligent PCC candidates will consider what is achievable before making wild promises to the electorate. After all if they don’t, they are unlikely to be re-elected for a second term.

All PCCs will of course need to address the issues above – particularly the one around budgets and costs. As they will take up office in the late autumn, they will be immersed in budget setting for the following year almost immediately, and decisions on council tax precepts will need to be taken within a couple of months. Any decision to increase council tax will therefore probably be a key electoral issue.

In some areas of the country there may be local ‘push button’ issues; those local concerns that will have to be addressed by PCCs. However the wide geographical area that many PCCs will cover (think of Devon andCornwall, orThamesValleyfor example) mean that these high profile issues may not be high profile across the entire electorate.

Some PCCs will have an understanding of policing, community safety or similar, and will have a particular set of views that they will bring with them from previous employment or experience. Again these views – often not informed by understanding some of the constraints and unique operating environment of the police – could sound good on a manifesto, could easily gain public support…but fail the test of achievability.

So over to you – if you were standing, what are your top 3 (or 5 or whatever) priorities for policing. How would you phrase those to get you elected, but to also be able to deliver those promises once you were elected?

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Effective Engagement 6 – Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

I have written previously about the Boston Explosion, and lessons my force learnt from that experience on how to use social media more effectively.

The critical point is that social media can be used for public order, critical incidents,  neighbourhood policing…indeed all areas of policing.

Image credit cobalt123 on Flick'rForces must engage early to build the relationships that can be used in emergency situations. Build trust early so people believe what you say. Build a community online that can assist in rumour killing, requests for help and clear up and investigation.

So if the unexpected happened to your organisation – how prepared are you? What is your support network on social media? A few suggestions to help:

Have ICT that works with social media sites – sounds obvious, but in the recent riots several forces had to rely on personal laptops and 3g dongles to access the internet, as force networks were too restrictive.

Have communications and operational people next to each other and talking about what they are seeing and saying, and what they see the public saying via social media.

Use the contacts you have built up in peacetime to get your messages out – youth clubs, businesses, local celebrities – all these can help in times of crisis.

Use the hashtag that is being used by the public, or if there isn’t one, create one. (Beware of hashtags that are rude or offensive however).

Plan for the transition from a steady state to an emergency situation where communications may need to be more controlled than usual. Also plan for an orderly transition back to a steady state once the emergency is over.

Organisations that are leaders in their field have many of the following characteristics – both for online activites and offline:

  • Prepare in peace time rather than at war
  • Have leadership buy in
  • Establish engagement at a local level, not at a corporate communications level alone
  • Consider the impact of both digital and traditional communications
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Effective Engagement 5

 New Technology – more hindrance than help?

Don't report to the police

This isn’t my image – just one that I feel reflects the public view of technology, and of the police.

Many people – especially in middle management in the police-  are frightened of this brave new world of engagement. There is comfort in the processes we all understand, and have a degree of control over. Increasingly however our world does not work like that.

People are talking about policing, having conversations and discussing your services, without inviting you. Journalists are finding stories and presenting them in the traditional media this way, and more importantly many people are finding their news via Twitter, sharing it via Facebook, uploading their videos and pictures of your services.

“Effective engagement is at the heart of policing. the revolution in digital technology means that people are engaging with services at their own convenience and in the manner, medium and at a time which suits them.” Nick Keane – in the Engage Guide to police forces using social media.

“the revolution in digital technology means that people are engaging with services at their own convenience and in the manner, medium and at a time which suits them.”

The speed of technology for the public vastly exceeds the speed with which traditional police force communications can respond. Modern smart phones can take a high definition video, edit it and upload it to the internet…before your officers have even returned to the station at the end of their shift. Have a look at this video of a TfL employee abusing a passenger for an example of what that can look like – this employee lost his job before the day was out.

There are loads of videos on  YouTube videos on policing – some good, some mis-understood, some bad. Some are even posted by forces themselves. The following is just a quick edit of a few videos out there:

By posting videos, commenting on other people’s videos, or refusing to comment, what message are we sending? How can we use the huge numbers of people watching videos online to engage more widely, and explain the context of issues such as taser deployment etc?


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Effective Engagement 4 – The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects - Image credit lamont_cranston on Flick'r

The consultation process should aim to maximise the opportunities of local residents and others (e.g. businesses, school children etc.) to make their concerns heard and be taken into account before the organisation makes a final decision. Skilful communication is an essential element of consultation.

Two Questions:

Do we just consult on issues that are easy or controversial to the public for us – budget setting, local priorities, station closures – or is it time to look at widening the impact that the public and key partners have on policing?

Which traditional methods still have their place?

The NPIA local policing and confidence guide talks about Access, Influence, Interventions and Answers as the way to build a successful engagement with local communities:

Access – If people can’t access their local police easily, they won’t be engaged, by definition. There needs to be a local understanding of the structure and working relationships within neighbourhood teams. Need for continuity of staff and training for both police staff and for local volunteers.

Influence – Police forces need to understand the impact of issues traditionally seen as ‘low level’ on feelings of public safety. Involving local people in setting priorities will not only improve people’s experience of contact with the police, but also give them influence over what matters locally. Done well it all leads to improved confidence.

Interventions – As the last entry in this series said – stop making all the decisions. Local communities need to arrive at solutions through true joint problem solving. Solving long standing problems will improve confidence in policing. Solving them together is easier and cheaper, builds community skills and sustainable change, and also improves confidence. Finally, once the foundations are laid, there is a need for joint tasking of police and local volunteers and organisations to improve the effectiveness of any actions.

Answers – Feeding back information about action and outcomes to community members is vital so people know what happened. There is a need for marketing and a variety of communication methods, as not everyone will be online (or read the local paper for that matter).

New ways of working using social media are a great way of widening all four areas. Have a look at this video of a Twitter based app by Runnymede beat for one way of giving access and feedback to the public. Virtual ward panels as covered in a previous blog also allow real influence, not just lip service.

Old style drafty village hall consultation still has it’s place…but social media (Twitter, video, online questionnaires and meetings, Facebook etc.) has started to make this seem as outdated as the fax or teletype.

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Effective Engagement 3 – Stop making decisions

A continuation of my posts on the theme of engagement.

Stop making decisions. Or at least stop taking all the decisions yourself.

Stop thinking that the police have the monopoly on all the good ideas. As one commentator on part 1 of this series said:

“[police] systems reflect a style of policing from at least 30 years ago in the days when it was considered the job of the police and not the public to solve crimes. In fact, it was seen as an admission of failure if the police turned to the public for assistance.”

We need to move on (or perhaps it is move back to when the police were the public and the public were the police), and accept that no-one knows the local community as well as the local community.

Activities such as virtual ward panels can spread the involvement to the wider community. This approach has been tried in Kensington and Chelsea in London, and has delivered some good results – real community intelligence leading to detailed community focussed priorities. In simple terms these are regular online surveys completed by a panel of people (which can be several hundred strong) in their own time, and providing real opportunities for them to influence the areas of questioning, and thus police activity.

Virtual Ward Panel example

A few things to remember:

  • The questions must be local, specific and timely
  • The process of creating them can be useful in itself
  • The panel should be made up of a variety of interests…or you can have several panels (for youth, businesses etc).

The effect on the public of just reading the questions is often to increase confidence in neighbourhood policing – the police are obviously aware of the details of what is going on, and are keen to ask the public’s opinion on local matters.

There are many ways of widening involvement – we just need to actively encourage them, make them real, make them meaningful. Other methods include Twitter/Facebook accounts, live online beat meetings, street surgeries, and yes, even traditional village hall neighbourhood meetings.

So think: How clear is your force on the decision making process, and where decisions can be influenced and by whom?

The ultimate aim should be to only take decisions where professional knowledge is essential, and even then in conjunction with the public where necessary. We should flood our decision making processes with the public…and not just the usual suspects.

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Effective Engagement 2

What the heck are we talking about?

…consultation, engagement, conversation, involvement, participation…

We use these words all the time, but with little thought to what they actually mean.

from Wikipedia definition “The tradition of a decision-making body getting inputs from those with less power is generally known as “consultation”. This became popular with UK governments during the 1980s and 1990s. Even though most governments that carry out consultations aredemocratically elected, many people who became involved in these processes were surprised that conduct of such “consultations” was unsatisfactory in at least three respects.

1) Groups that already had influence were often the only ones consulted

2) People who did not have the resources to find out would usually not be able to be part of a consultation, even if the decision it was meant to influence might have a major impact on them.

3) There were no agreed safeguards against consultations being used cynically by decision-makers to make it look like they had sought to canvass other opinions, while in fact having set a new policy in place even before it asked the question.”

So here are some good definitions of what these words actually mean:

Public (or Community) Involvement “Effective interactions between professionals, decision-makers, individual and representative stakeholders to identify issues and exchange views on a continuous basis;”

Participation “The extent and nature of activities undertaken by those who take part in public or community involvement;”

Public (or Community) Engagement “Actions and processes taken or undertaken to establish effective relationships with individuals or groups so that more specific interactions can then take place;”

Consultation “The dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views, and normally with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action.”

So next time you use the words, make sure that you – and those you are talking to – understand what you mean.

(all definitions are from Guidelines on Effective Community Involvement and Consultation RTPI and the Consultation Institute.http://www.rtpi.org.uk/download/385/Guidlelines-on-effective-community-involvement.pdf)

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Effective Engagement 1

I don’t believe that the police really want to engage with the public.

It is encouraging to see you all here reading this, but as a service we want to pay lip service to engagement, rather than use it to influence policing, and ultimately to reduce crime.

There is a massive resource out there that we regularly fail to engage with, often even when they want to engage with us. Its called the public.

Tweet from BrumPolice

The tweet above is a response to one from Jon Hickman, reporting an issue with porn magazines being flyered on cars in his street to his local police force. He felt so strongly about the response he initially got, that he created a detailed blog about it, complaining that the police didn’t seem interested.

He asked “Isn’t that [public passing titbits of information] what community policing is supposed to be about?”

(On a positive note the subsequent tweets from local neighbourhood team members were much more positive…but first impressions count).

How does your organisation deal with information, queries and intelligence from unusual sources? Are you welcoming or bureaucratic in your response?

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