Christine Smith Sussex Police

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  • Chief Inspector Laurence Taylor district commander for Brighton and Hove. He already had a reasonable following on Twitter and was engaged with the local community Op Rhodon changed this and turned out to be a very useful tool for him It was decided that it would make sense to use his Twitter account due to the relationships already in existence as a result of Labour Party Conference
  • Operational name given for the organisation March for England intention to march through brighton. Their main aim as an organisation is to make St George’s day a bank holiday It has long been a common misconception that march for England are a racist organisation in league with the BNP and as a result, Unite Against Facism wanted to protest about the march It was our main aim to facilitate a safe and peaceful protest – and this became one of the main lines to take throughout
  • Ch Insp taylor actively sought to use social media for op Rhodon, not just on the day but also in the run up for chatter scanning This was a first for Sussex Police The groups involved were unlikely to be traditional media users, so Twitter and Facebook played a big part in both intelligence and helping the counter protest to gain momentum What was a handful of PCSOs escorting the march grew into mutual aid from Surrey, The Met, Hampshire and City and involved over 200 level II public order trained officers, four police horses and three comms staff
  • The methods used were simple; the comms team on the day followed the gold, silver, bronze chain of command Using an iPhone and the Hootsuite App I went walkabout trying to get a feel for what was going on Taking photos Reporting back on atmosphere and overheard comments by public Came back every so often scanning chat and responding immediately to chatter
  • In the run up to the event, key influencers were identified and monitored throughout – responding to any rumours or potential flashpoints Use example of The Argus headline ‘ Most importantly, we managed to persuade traditional media to stop using chatter as their foundation for articles which killed any further misinformation
  • The day itself went well and there was initial spike in interest from tweeters, but with early intervention, the message spread. There was a large spike in followers both organically and also as bots re-tweeted automatically I was keen to take photos that were not inflammatory, but showed ‘business as usual’ in Brighton The constant thread was community reassurance and playing down the event
  • The actual scanning of the event was a combination of watching the already gathered influencers and using particular search words The BNP were quoted quite frequently and we were able to explain briefly that it was a peaceful march and we were facilitiating the right to protest peacefully but would not tolerate violence or disorder The main question was why we felt it necessary to have so many policing numbers By and large there was a very positive response to both the policing of the operation and the tweeting
  • Most important to respond as soon as possible and cut dead any potential rumour streams This meant having firm lines but also being flexible in our approach Photos helped with ‘proving’ that it was business as usual We had to make a clear definition between what was intelligence and what was chatter. Anything deemed to be intelligence was passed on by us plus that was also monitored by Divisional Intelligence unit. As a result of someone chatting on facebook, a student was arrested for inciting violence the night before. We wanted to avoid being drawn into contentious debate – we were simply the facilitators
  • Nick Cloke who is here with us today explaining that before the event we were able to negotiate with traditional media with regards to the publication of misinformed stories. On the day we were able to work with journalists and almost act as a media agency ourselves, being in control of accuracy and speed of reporting.
  • Chief Inspector Taylor re-iterating the dynamic element of the day through using social media and also the importance of adding that personal element to the community engagement.
  • As with all new ideas or methods, there were lessons to be learnt. Primarily this focused on risk assessment – both of the operator and of the messages being sent out. In future, the comms officers deployed on the front line would receive a clearer risk assessment but due to my experience as an officer in Brighton, this was something that was not focussed upon.


  • 1. Op Rhodon: Using Twitter for operational policing purposes Christine Smith, Sussex police
  • 2. Introduction
    • Chief Inspector Laurence Taylor
    • District Commander of Brighton and Hove
    • Already using Twitter
    • Good relationship with local media and well engaged with wider community
  • 3. Op Rhodon background
    • March for England 25 th April 2010
    • Misunderstandings lead to protest from United Against Facism
    • Resulted in increased public order policing requirement
    • Main aim: facilitate safe and peaceful protest
  • 4. Corporate Communications strategy
    • Media Relations approached to include social media strand to strategy
    • First time Sussex police use social media in a proactive operational way
    • Important to engage wider community normally using traditional media a secondary information source
    • Deal positively with rumour and misinformation
    • Explain police presence and reassure community
  • 5. Practicalities
    • Followed command structure of operation:
      • Gold: Head of Media Relations
      • Silver: Media Relations officer
      • Bronze: Twitter operator
    • Twitter operator enabled with iPhone using HootSuite
    • Gold and Silver based in operations suite, Bronze both out on ground and at suite
  • 6. Method
    • Gained cooperation of traditional media
    • Immediate and ongoing scanning of online chatter
    • Identified key influential online opinion formers to engage with in a timely fashion
    • Operator picked up on the ‘human aspect’ of the policing of the event by Tweeting photos
    • Counteraction of media reports e.g. congestion in city centre
  • 7. On the day
    • Element of dynamic media management dependent on chatter and events on the day
    • Huge surge in followers
    • Increase in re-tweeting
    • Photos captured ‘normality’ and ‘human aspect’ of event
    • Ability to play down police presence and justify necessity
  • 8. Chatter
    • Used search keywords such as ‘BNP’, ‘March’, ‘Brighton’, ‘Police’, ‘UAF’
    • Most comments derogatory towards BNP, despite no link between MFE and BNP
    • Only negatives to police were questioning numbers
    • Positive reaction to both policing and Tweeting
  • 9. Key points
    • Timely responses
    • Adopt firm lines to take on key areas e.g. rumour management, incitement of violence or unlawful protest
    • Use photos sparingly, but with impact
    • Clear definition between what is intelligence and what is chatter that needs a corporate communications response
    • Avoid engaging in contentious debate
    • Ability to update lines quickly and dynamically
  • 10. Nick Cloke, Head of Media Relations
    • "Before the event, social media helped us correct misinformation and contain speculation, to the extent that we could negotiate with traditional media not to publish any stories in advance as this would enflame the situation and add credibility to rumours.
    • "On the day, we combined immediate online updates and ongoing liaison with journalists at the scene to ensure reporting was quick, accurate and fair across all communications channels."
  • 11. Chief Inspector Laurence Taylor “ As a recognised district commander in the local community, I was able to give a personal feel – not just the corporate line.” “ Getting live time experiences from the Twitter operator enabled me to shape my operational response throughout the day”
  • 12. Lessons learnt
    • Police officers who were front line need to have a greater understanding of the method of engagement and who is doing the tweeting
    • Having confidence in being able to react accordingly to fast time incoming comments
    • Need to assess if every event requires Tweets
    • Risk assessment for comms officers deployed on front line
  • 13. @sussex_police @cinsptaylor @sc2221 @nickcloke