Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Keeping yourself informed

I was having a conversation recently with a colleague from another area, and we got round to discussing “keeping yourself in the know”.
I had happened to mention how I had been following a journalist from a local paper as he tweeted his experiences in our town centre on a typical Friday night. He was one of several journalists across the area that were spending the evening reporting on the “real” level of alcohol related violence in our town and city centres in this region.
Predictably, things were quiet in our town. There used to be a real problem with alcohol related violence and hospital attendances, but a proactive policing presence, stricter licensing enforcement and a general downturn in the number of bars as an impact of the economy has meant that Friday and Saturday nights are now much safer, and quieter, than they were previously. The record of this journalists tweets will make an interesting appendix at our next monthly performance meeting, and will help to put a face on our night time economy that is sometimes not seen by the people who attend these meetings.
My colleague basically asked how I kept myself informed about things like this. Do I spend all my time surfing the internet when I should be working?!
The answer is that, actually, I used to surf the internet a lot for news stories relating to crime and disorder in my area (not at work though, at home!). Over time, however, I started to find some tools that really help me to do it quicker and easier. These are the basic tools that I think are valuable for all analysts, and can really help you to start keeping plugged into what is happening in your area. Have a think about how you can use them to increase your local knowledge.
Get a good RSS reader.
 RSS readers are essentially tools for keeping on top of websites that you regularly look at. Think of them as websites that tell you about other websites! They will keep track of “feeds” that you specify, and will collate anything new that appears there. Almost all news websites (including local papers) publish RSS Feeds. All you have to do is tell your RSS reader the web address and it will find the feed for you. I personally use Google Reader, and find it reliable and easy to use, but there are a range of others out there. I use them to follow local and national papers, blogs that interest me, my forces news (and recruitment!) pages, some government departments, a few university departments public journal archives and, of course, the daily Dilbert cartoon (hey, all work and no play..!). I can quickly scan all these sources of info, and within about ten minutes every morning know about any breaking news, new policies, or relevant articles of interest that have been published online. If I were to scan each website individually, I reckon it would take about 2 hours.
Set up some sensible Google Alerts.
Ever try Googling the area you work in and adding “crime, police, antisocial behaviour, disorder”. It can get pretty interesting. If you did it every day, you’d learn a lot about that area that you might miss even if you work in the police station. Well, with Google Alerts you can set up a search that will run automatically (there are options for how often), and it will email you the most relevant new results to whatever email address you specify. I have about four different alerts set up, all of which relate to crime / disorder in my area or general crime analysis / mapping techniques. This means that every day I might get 2 or 3 emails about crime in my area, and any new books / articles relating to crime analysis that I can read in my spare time. Talk about making Continuous Professional Development easy!
Don’t be afraid of using social media at work.
Now let’s make this clear, I don’t mean use Facebook at work to whinge about your job. Doing that from home is dodgy enough without doing it from your desk! What you can do though, is to use the more popular social media sites to keep track of what’s happening in your area. There are a range of “hyperlocal” sites cropping up all over the place, and keeping your finger on the pulse can really help you keep track of what is important to your residents and local groups.
The two that I think are the most helpful at the minute are Facebook and Twitter. I have “work accounts” for both. They are separate from my personal accounts, and contain no personal info beyond my name and role. In both accounts, I have links to local groups of interest (such as residents associations, local community groups, neighbourhood watches, local councillors etc) and use them to pick up on the issues that start to crop up that I need to keep on top of. I was lucky in that the team I work for understands the value of doing this, and believe me when I say it has paid dividends. It has allowed us to respond very rapidly to hate groups that have sprung up, potentially violent incidents (young people will often schedule fights on Facebook!), keep up to date with community projects and activities that can help us keep our young people occupied and out of trouble, and has generally helped us to improve our standing in the community by seeming like we are modern and sensible in how we communicate with the public. We even have our own pages and feeds for some operations and projects we run throughout the year.
Don’t be afraid to speak to your manager and IT department about why you need access. If it is for a genuine reason, and you make the argument in the right way, most forces will “unblock” these sites if they aren’t already. Remember, your CID department will almost certainly have access for the purpose of running investigations. This is just having similar access for another, equally legitimate, policing purpose.

There are, of course, plenty of other tools that I probably haven’t discovered yet. There are also plenty of really helpful websites, associations and online resources that are really helpful. I think there’s probably another post in the wings about some of the sites I feel have helped me. Feel free to make other suggestions in the comments box below (if you can’t see it, click on the title for this post and it should bring it up). If you don’t think the resources above will help you, but have other ways of keeping yourself “plugged in” to your area, share your experience! Above all, the question you should be asking yourself is “do I have a wider understanding of my area than just what the crime data tells me? How can I expand my horizons?”


  1. Rory, congratulations on this new blog and this excellent posting. I've used Google Alerts for a number of years, and they do a great job keeping me up-to-date on developments in my community.

    I've asked the IACA's Technology Director, Jim Mallard, to include an RSS to your blog on our web site. Feel free to announce it over the IACA list, too.

    Best wishes,

    Christopher Bruce
    International Association of Crime Analysts

  2. Thanks Chris,

    I hope the transition to your new working arrangement is going smoothly! Good luck, and thanks for the support.