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An SMS text message service from Bedfordshire Police during a recent EDL protest has been hailed as a great success by shoppers, residents and businesses in Luton.
Faced with policing a demonstration by the English Defence League and a counter protest by Unite Against Fascism, Bedfordshire Police mounted the biggest operation in the Force’s history. Among the many challenges facing the force was how to communicate with and reassure the many communities who would be affected by the events of Saturday 5th February.
Research and the Force’s own experience showed that SMS text would be a key communication channel, particularly in the predominately Muslim area of Bury Park, situated less than a mile from the site of the main protests. Initially, SMS was seen as a way of communicating information to teams of community mediators working alongside officers and staff in the affected communities. Very quickly though, Bedfordshire saw the benefits of opening up their text message service to the wider community.
Using a web based package from text experts txttools, the force set up a short code (88020) text message sign up service with an easy to remember keyword (Police). In the three weeks leading up to the protest, this short code number and keyword was publicised in every communication associated with the event. As well as promoting the service in leaflets and press releases, the force also advertised the number on its popular Facebook site and through Bluetooth proximity marketing units, deployed in key locations around the town.
At its peak, the service attracted 1691 individual subscribers, with over 1,000 signing up in the 24 hours before the protest. Thirty four messages were sent in the lead up to and on the day itself, accounting for over 41,000 individual texts. Messages ranged from information about road closures and bus diversions, through to news updates as the day unfolded and quelling inaccurate rumours about shops and a mosque being attacked.
An added benefit for the force was how the messages were used in social media. The force was posting updates to its website and Facebook page, but does not have a Twitter account. Nevertheless, the Corporate Communications team were monitoring Twitter and were able to see that within just a few seconds, the text messages were being tweeted and re-tweeted by news organisations, journalists and private individuals.
Bedfordshire Police Marketing Manager Andy Jones said “In terms of numbers, what we achieved with the text message service was impressive. Its true value though, can be seen in the reaction we had from the users of the service. I was staggered by the range of people who wrote in after the protest to thank us for our updates and to tell us what a difference it made to them.”
Below are extracts from messages received by the force in the days after the event:
“A friend had advised me that I could receive text updates throughout the day, and... I signed up for these, so I could keep abreast of the situation..., What a fantastic service that was, to be aware of the true facts of the situation, as they happened. I'm not sure if you offer this service ordinarily, but I think it's great, and reassured me greatly that the Police were in control.” – Luton resident
“Loved the text messages...”– BBC Radio Reporter
“Just a quick word of thanks for your constant updates on the demonstrations in Luton yesterday... thanks to you I was still able to keep in touch with what happened.” – Luton resident
“The regular updates were most appreciated and helped keep me informed on how our town was being protected by the police forces of Bedfordshire and those drafted in to help.” – Tenant representative
“Everyone I've spoken to has said how excellent the text message service was - it really helped to quash rumours and just give succinct timely updates.” – Shopping Centre Marketing Manager
“One thing that everybody mentioned was the text service ... which kept people informed throughout the day about the latest situation. It helped to kill the rumours at the root and also helped to alleviate any fear or anxiety.” – Police staff member
“I signed up to your text messaging service and although I did not leave my house until late in the afternoon, I felt very safe having these regular updates.” – Luton resident
“…..your texted updates were genuinely helpful…..” – BBC TV Reporter
“... commented that the text messaging idea was fantastic , that he had received many texts on the day . It allowed any rumours that were circulated in the community to be discounted and kept people up to date with events. He felt this service was very important to the success in the Bury Park area on the 5th.” – Bangladeshi Youth League member via a PCSO
“With the text messaging service we were able to confirm that the rumours were untrue”
“The mediators felt more involved with the operation as they were able to speak with members of their own community and give out information correctly.”
The feedback from people who used the messaging service has been a positive one and felt it was an essential piece of communication.” – PCSO working with a team of Community Mediators.
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