Police in St Helens have taken a further leap into the digital age by introducing a dedicated social media desk to allow people to report non-urgent crimes or get advice online.
In recent months the demand on the Force’s non-emergency 101 telephone number has increased significantly and discussions have been ongoing to establish how to reduce the volume of calls while still providing an effective public service.
For the past six months Merseyside Police has been the only force in the UK to staff a dedicated social media desk which allows the public to contact the police online 24-hours-a day seven days a week.
And since the pilot scheme was launched there have been in excess of 6000 significant contacts via the social media desk (Facebook and Twitter) and online reports - including from as far afield as the United States of America and Australia - with demand increasing each month.
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley said: “On average Merseyside Police receives 2,500 calls a day and we’ve established that between 1800 and 2000 of those calls are non-urgent and don’t require immediate police attendance.
“We are committed to ensuring that our communities are at the heart of everything we do and we are constantly looking at ways in which we can improve our service to the public to become more efficient and effective.
“We know that that we are in a fast-moving digital age and that in the last 10 years we have seen a significant shift in the way that people communicate with each other and we want to make sure that Merseyside Police remains up to speed with those changes.
“We know that while some people will still want to use the phone, a growing number of people would prefer to use social media to make contact. By introducing a social media desk that is available 24-hours a day means we can offer that level of service.”
Operations manager Tony Jackson said: “By setting up the social media desk we hope to take away demand on the 101 phone lines in the future and give people more choice and an alternative way to report non-urgent crime or get advice or guidance.
“The type of contact we receive ranges from concern for friends or relatives, advice on reporting crimes or suspicious behaviour or even if someone wants to contact us but doesn’t want to speak in person or feels more comfortable reporting something online.
“The desk has already created interest from 20 other national police forces who are looking at its development and we have had lots of positive feedback from the public who have used it.
“It also works as a useful tool for us to push out important messages, advice and live-time incidents such as road closures to an online audience.”
ACC Critchley added: “Whilst we are doing everything we can do to make our systems more effective I want to continue to remind people to contact us because they need us. We regularly receive calls on all sorts of issues such as cats up trees and blocked drains – these types of calls can put extra pressure on our call handlers.
“The social media desk is a non-emergency contact service and does not in any way replace the 999 service. People should continue to call 999 in an emergency.”