You may have noticed an increased visibility by the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) in the media and online recently and this is down to two Media Officers who are both extremely experienced in their respective fields. As a Press Officer for the Ministry of Defence and then Senior Press Officer for the Government of Gibraltar at No. 6, Stuart Green has been dealing with the media for many years and together with PC(145) Ashley Maer, an award winning journalist in his own right, they have been responsible for humanising and highlighting the work that the RGP does.
Ash started his new position in January and is part of the initiative for an amplified social media presence for the RGP. “We are posting up to five times a day, engaging with and showcasing different departments that probably didn’t get any coverage before,” he says.
Social media can sometimes be a powerful and dangerous tool, especially for law enforcement agencies but, depending on how it is used and for what purposes, Stuart says that it can be used to support police work. Pointing out a computer screen that is constantly updated by the Control Room detailing what is happening at any given time, Stuart comments that this enables them to keep up-to-date with everything that is going on. “For instance, a post about a police officer smashing a windscreen to free a child in the back seat of a car on a hot day that took less than five minutes to write on social media, received 10,000 hits.”
After five years on the beat Ash knows how to work the radio, listening in and reporting on incidents as they happen. “This is especially useful if there has been an accident on, say, Line Wall Road and traffic is snarled up, so we can put out a post telling the public to avoid that area for the next half hour or so,” he states.
Pointing out the risks and serious penalties of being distracted by using mobile phones whilst driving has produced some unusual excuses for why people are committing these type of offences. “Sometimes we can’t believe the responses,” Ash exclaims. “A couple of weeks ago a member of the public was stopped for using her mobile phone whilst driving and the first thing she said to the copper was ‘now my son is going to be late for school’, so we posted that and 48,000 people saw it.” Stuart mentions another recent excuse: ‘but you don’t understand, this is a very important call’!
Ash says that now when the officers are out and about and they hear on the radio that they are doing traffic stops, the first thing he will text them is to say ‘hear any good excuses?’ and Stuart always asks for a photo to post online. “Quite often when something is happening we will go down and take pictures ourselves, so that we always have an appropriate image to add to our posts,” Ash adds.
Although there is obviously a serious side to social media, both Stuart and Ash want to show the human side of the police and make the RGP more approachable. “We don’t want to appear scary or for the public to think that they can’t talk to us, so we try and bring some humour to our posts which is a great way to get the message across.” Crimes that weren’t being posted about before and that are now deemed to be interesting or newsworthy to the public are being highlighted, but with a tongue-in-cheek element and a touch of humour, such as the bag of cannabis that was handed in to the RGP earlier this year:
‘Whoops, someone carelessly left this huge bag of cannabis with a street value of £1,500 lying around in the Northern
Defences yesterday. But don’t worry, a member of the public
has handed it in and we are looking after it for you at New Mole House. If it’s yours, please come in at your convenience to discuss with our Drug Squad officers who are keen to talk to you. Kind regards, the RGP.”
“That turned out to be one of our most popular posts and once we realised that humour works, we started using it a bit more, but we don’t want to cross the line in what is a very serious issue.” Ash says.
Stuart mentions #ThrowbackThursday where old photographs, usually black and white images from the archives, are posted asking for people to get involved and add a caption to the image.
‘It’s #ThrowbackThursday So that means it’s photo caption competition time’.
The RGP opening bid was: ‘Right lads, we’re now going to practise dancing the waltz with a tall partner. First you take your partner like this…’
This elicited several comments, one of which was ‘”Erm….Sarge! We’re telling him to stop but that cargo ship is still heading towards us”. “This has gone down well and gets involvement from the public,” says Stuart.
Part of the role of the Media Officers is to answer questions from the media and press on a daily basis. Ash states that they are starting to point out to local media when interesting cases are coming up. “A lot of our work goes unreported – whereas if we know of something from one of the normal uniformed officers, we will then give the media a heads-up and tell them that they may want to attend court on a certain day.” Stuart adds that they are also encouraging officers, particularly junior officers, to tell them if they are running with something that may be of public interest.
In an attempt to show the human side of police officers, a weekly in depth feature focusing on one particular officer was implemented on social media sites. “We ran twelve Officers of the Week to highlight that although they wear a uniform, they have got wives, husbands, partners, kids, dogs, hobbies and talents,” Stuart states. When PC Steve Peach dropped into St Joseph’s Primary School to talk to youngsters about Online Safety he noticed a piano in the corner of the room and in an attempt to get the kids’ attention beforehand, he delighted the youngsters and teachers by showing off his piano-playing skills. The clip of PC Peach playing piano went viral and led the Boogie-Woogie Policeman to become one of the featured Officers of the Week.
“Since social media has been pushed out a bit more, people seem to think that we weren’t policing as hard as we are now,” Ash remarks. “There have been a lot of comments such as ‘glad to see you are clamping down on this…’ and ‘glad to see the RGP doing this…’, but we have always done these things, it is just that we weren’t posting about it or letting the public know.”
Talking about the press, Stuart says that they are already on their 125th press release this year which is twice as many as the RGP tended to issue before the pandemic. “Our backgrounds definitely help us when we are looking for stories,” Stuart states.
Commissioner of Police Richard Ullger is credited by Stuart Green as being incredibly supportive and approachable in regard to the work that the Media Officers undertake, often proffering ideas himself as to what can or should be put out to the press or on social media and also as somebody who is keen to embrace new technologies. “The Commissioner is happy to put himself out there and be visible in the local media,” Stuart says.
So what does the Commissioner himself think about this change in policy?
“By placing extra effort on our Public relations, I believe that we are making the community more aware of the excellent work being done by our front-line officers. I think that, by engaging both with the traditional press and with the social media, we are raising the profile of our beat officers and of our specialist areas such as Economic crime, Firearms, Traffic, Neighbourhood Policing and Public protection. And if all this can be done whilst bringing a smile to people’s faces, then so much the better.”
There is no doubt that interacting with the public on a daily basis, especially through the use of social media and press releases can be a powerful tool, and in a place like Gibraltar is something that can be leveraged to build trust and confidence in the RGP.
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