Here at Police Scotland, working with communities is at the heart of what we do. The Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) was established in 2015, and this legislation reinforces the variety of opportunities for the general public and civilian organisations to get involved with public agencies including policing. In this article, we’ll look at just a few positive examples of how you can get involved.
Dumfries and Galloway Social Media and Virtual Operations Support Team
Social media is increasingly an important way of providing up-to-the minute, accurate information to the public, particularly during emergency or major incidents, and it became a vital way of communicating during the winter storms of December 2015 which saw communities in Dumfries and Galloway battered by high winds and severe flooding. To support this response, the Police Tactical Commander established a Social Media and Virtual Operations Support Team (VOST).
The role of the VOST was to gather and publish information to the public, distribute safety messages and counter misinformation, and comprised two police officers, overseen by a police inspector. The team created a web based ‘blog’ with a ‘live incidents’ page to update the public during the emergency situation, engaged with the public via social media and updated an Incidents Map using information provided by a counterpart officer from the police command and control system. The ‘Live Incidents’ map included known road closures and key locations such as sandbag collection points and the location of a rest centre. This became the most popular page on the website.
Perhaps most importantly, information also flowed from the public to the team via social media – and this two way information flow is a key feature of the VOST. The public provided relevant pictures and videos of the situation which in turn helped the incident commanders identify risk levels and allocate appropriate resources. VOST also had the added benefit of reducing call volumes to the police control room from the public asking for information. On the first day, 20,017 unique users visited the site with up to 2,000 per hour accessing information, and over 30% of these visitors returned to the website seeing further updates throughout the day.
Constable Adam Potts said, “The DGVOST is only possible with support and engagement of the public. Each member of the community who chooses to engage and share their pictures or videos with the DGVOST team during a major incident, is helping to keep their own and the wider community informed. This new approach to crowd sourcing information and positive community involvement is a great example of what is possible when people come together to help tackle an issue affecting their towns and villages.”
Police Scotland Youth Volunteers
The Police Scotland Youth Volunteers is the newest and fastest growing uniformed youth service of its type in the UK. We were established in 2013 with five groups in Cumnock, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Quickly making an impact by volunteering at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and at local events throughout Scotland, our programme has quickly expanded and today there are now 33 groups across Scotland from Stranraer to Shetland, with plans to expand to 39 by the end of 2017.
The PSYV have a distinctly Scottish identity and are placed at the heart of Scottish communities. Every weekend Youth Volunteers can be seen participating at local community events and gala days right through to major events like The Open Golf Championship and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Whilst working in their communities the Youth Volunteers get involved in everything they can; supporting stewards, helping the elderly, giving out public safety information, lost child wristbands, all whilst supporting local policing priorities.
Partnership working is at the forefront of the PSYV programme. PSYV Dundee have been working closely with Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (WRASAC) for several years, assisting in combatting sexual exploitation of young people, cyber bullying, the pressures that young people have to send explicit images and messages. This has been a great working partnership.
In June 2016, 2 volunteers attended a conference arranged by CEPOL at the Greater Manchester Police training department. The audience included The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police and 31 delegates of similar rank from Europe.
The volunteers delivered a presentation on the pressures young people in relation to ‘Sexting’. The presentation was well received and delegates from The Hague contacted WRASAC asking for PSYV Dundee West to give feedback on a script that was being developed. This was not only a great honour but it gave our Youth Volunteers the opportunity for their voices to be heard and get involved in the development of a project that has the potential to be delivered across Europe.
The PSYV are also involved with peer to peer and intergenerational education programmes, delivering inputs to their peers, the public and to the police on important themes like “No Knives Better Lives”, internet safety and other inputs relevant to local policing.
PSYV Co-ordinator PC Nicola Gillies said, "The Police Scotland Youth Volunteer programme gives young people an insight into Policing in Scotland and the opportunity to get involved in Volunteering in their community. PSYV get involved in a variety of different events which in the past have included organised Race Events, local litter picks, assisting Police with leaflet drops and delivery of the "No Knifes Better Lives" peer education programme.
"You can join your local PSYV Group as a Youth Volunteer from ages 13/14 or as an Adult Volunteer from age 18."
Glasgow Street Pastors
Glasgow Street Pastors is a volunteer-based initiative with a mandate to be a visible Christian influence in the city of Glasgow.
Teams of Street Pastors walk the streets of Glasgow every weekend demonstrating compassionate care in the heart of the city, operating a Safe Zone at St George’s Tron church every Saturday night, on Friday’s during the festive period and at other busy times in the city centre. The aim of all their activity is to help, to care and to listen, and they work in partnership with local churches, Glasgow City Council, and Police Scotland, forming what is known as the Urban Trinity.
From the Glasgow Street Pastors website
We sit down with a homeless friend in a doorway and ask her 'how are you doing'? and listen with compassion. We offer a sandwich and some chocolate which she accepts with a 'thank you very much'. We ask if she would like us to help her to the night shelter rather than sleep in the doorway. She declines our offer but thanks us for caring.
Two girls walk by with their six inch high heels in their hands. We ask if they would like some flip flops. 'How much'? We answer 'they're free'. 'No way! Can I have a pair? You are angels'. More hugs.
Stuart Crawford, Glasgow Street Pastors Co-ordinator said, “Street Pastors have patrolled the city centre streets in teams for over 18,000 hours in 8 years of existence. In that time they have become a familiar sight on the streets of Glasgow on a Friday and Saturday night giving out flip flops to barefooted women, helping people who become vulnerable due to excessive drinking or who have lost contact with friends.
"Street Pastors also work with the many vulnerable homeless people on the streets. Teams check in with CCTV control and the duty officer before heading out. The Safe Zone which operates on a Saturday night is staffed by Street Pastors, trained first aid responders and officers from Police Scotland. It is a highly successful example of collaboration between voluntary organisations and the Police. Many of the people who use the service are brought in by officers, freeing up valuable Police time and presence on the streets. Street Pastors are always appreciative of the wonderful support given by Police Scotland officers while they are on patrol.”
For more information about getting involved in keeping your community safe and happy, check out the Ready Scotland website for information on voluntary organisations, and the Police Scotland Community empowerment pages.