There were lots of jobs I thought would be fun when I was a little girl. And one of them, for a very short time, was a police officer.
My ‘resistance to rules’, which came out in a personality test I completed recently, would probably have held me back had I pursued that particular career path, so perhaps it’s just as well that my interests moved on and led me into communications!
What about a comms role with the police though? Well, I did apply for such a job, many, many moons ago… I wasn’t successful, but again, perhaps it’s just as well, as I suspect rules still apply in a role like that…. Or do they?!
I’m guessing that – by now – many millions of people will have seen the ‘marmite’ post from Kingston Police to try to track down criminal suspect Tracey Dyke. The tongue-in-cheek status, which uses social media favourite ‘#awkward’, has been shared 120,000 times and has reached Facebook users right across the country and as far afield as Hong Kong.
Using very informal language and with a colloquialism more akin to the ramblings of a teenager than the police force, the post very politely (or sarcastically, depending on how you read it!) asks Tracey to come forward so police can speak to her in connection with burglary. And it seems the ‘banter-y’ post has divided public opinion.
‘What if she is innocent?’ asked outraged social media users. ‘What happens when self-appointed ‘officers’ decide to inflict their own punishment?’ It is a fair point. People are vilified time-and-time again on social media, often without a shred of evidence.
‘Where are their professional standards?’ asked others. And it’s another fair point. As public servants, there to protect us, do we expect them to be the consummate professional void of humour or feelings?
I have to be honest and say that 90% of me loved this post. It is witty, bold and engaging – everything you’d want your social media to be. But 10% of me cringed. It’s the equivalent of seeing a headteacher twerk at a school disco, when you wonder ‘is that really appropriate?!’.
Sometimes, when you are a ‘moral compass’ and a figure of authority, that comes with a responsibility – to take that position seriously and not to undermine it.
I thought about it more, with a professional communicator hat on. One of the best campaigns we have worked on – which gained regional, national and international coverage – was risqué. It used social media and content in a similarly bold and creative way. The reserved, cautious, dare I say prudish side of me, was making the same noises as when I read Kingston Police’s post. But ultimately, it worked. It stood out from the crowd of vanilla campaigns.
Would I have dared post the Kingston Police status? After much pondering, yes, I think I would. If the objective is reaching people – and enough of them to catch a suspected criminal (who I expect the police must have strong evidence against, to make a bold move like this – and who also has a long history of criminal activity and was once named among the borough’s most wanted) then there can be no doubt they have achieved this aim. If the broader objective of the police is to work in a positive, collaborative way with the community, then it achieves that. And if they wanted to bring a smile to the face of thousands of people, suffering from the post-Christmas January blues, then they did that too. Very arresting content…. Let’s hope that is literal too.