The latest fad or a Facebook friend for life? Beds Police are now online

A FEW years ago it might have seemed a little bizarre, but the day has come when you can be ‘friends’ with the police on Facebook.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 7th May 2012, 11:00 am

Along with other forces across the country, Bedfordshire Police have their own page on the social networking site which anyone can access and follow.

People can ask questions, share information and keep up-to-date with daily policing activities via the page, and with nearly 20,000 fans, it’s clearly caught on.

The Luton News went behind the scenes at the Police Headquarters in Kempston to find out how the communications team monitor and use the site and how it’s changed day-to-day policing.

Head of communications Andrea Briggs, said: “Our Facebook page is a way of members of the public being able to communicate with us as well as us communicating with them.

“We have a team of three who monitor the social networking sites in between our other duties. It’s mainly Facebook although we do have a Twitter account too. The Bedfordshire Police website is still being used in the same way as before, as we often direct people to it from the Facebook page for further information.”

The Bedfordshire Police Facebook page was set up in 2009 and it’s one of the most popular pages in the country.

Neighbouring force Hertfordshire Constabulary has 9,421 Facebook fans and Thames Valley has 9,362 fans, compared to Bedfordshire Police’s 19,382.

Most people on the Beds Police Facebook page post queries about specific incidents, although Andrea is keen to remind people they need to include a time and street name if the communications team are going to be able to respond to their enquiry.

There are some people who post inappropriate things on the site, and even write abuse to the police. One person on Monday simply wrote; ‘Die’.

Andrea said: “Posts containing offensive language or which enter into discussions that could affect criminal proceedings will always be removed. As long as the comments are not offensive or inappropriate we can allow them.”

Earlier this week, an appeal to find a missing person attracted more than 80 comments. Some of them were offensive while others expressed genuine concern, but the team acted swiftly to remove the inappropriate ones and remind people how to use the site. When the man was found safe and well he got 275 ‘likes’.

It’s stories like this which can give a sense of community on the Facebook page, even if it is only a virtual community.

And it’s not all serious, as many of the Facebook fans yesterday were posting comments about the new series of Traffic Cops which starts tonight and features Bedfordshire Police.

However, some might wonder if such informal contact with the police might reduce the force’s authority.

Andrea said: “I don’t think it devalues police in that way. It’s just another way for the public to engage with the force and vice versa.”

Criminals have even been identified as a result of CCTV stills being posted on the site.

It’s certainly a world away from 20th century policing.

Andrea said: “We have to try and keep up with technology and find other ways and a which we can communicate with people. I don’t think Facebook will ever replace bobbies on the beat but it can help us engage and interact with the public.”

The Facebook page usually closes at 3pm on a Friday for the weekend, but this weekend it will remain open on Saturday for the EDL and We Are Luton protests in the town.

As well as following Bedfordshire Police Twitter and Facebook Pages, members of the public are welcome to receive updates on the events of the day by texting POLICE to 88020.