Sometimes a press release or some social media just won't do. When Greater Manchester Police force were looking to register help from residents they developed a smartphone app that uses the geolocation capability of a smartphone.
Almost 12 months ago we were discussing how new technology identifying locations could support frontline policing. Apps are at their best when they use the mobile element to do something different to websites or social networks.
So the idea came to create a Greater Manchester Police app that was not about PR or engagement but was focused on helping to lock up criminals and keep communities safe. Geo-location technology was the key to delivering something unique that would maximise mobile and add to the existing digital services.
We've reached a milestone by successfully launching the Android version of the app. The iPhone version was launched in January and has been downloaded by more than 11,000 people. At the time the main question was when the Android version was going to be available, so we had to meet the demand.
The app uses location technology to show you where the nearest police station is, who your local neighbourhood team are, details of wanted and missing people and appeals and other relevant information. But it doesn’t need to just stop there and we are already working on what other developments can be added to keep increasing the offering through the app.
So, why did we do it? The whole aim is to increase transparency by putting more information into people’s hands. Hopefully, then they can send information about wanted people or missing people and help GMP to solve crime. Our colleagues who work in the intelligence branch have been crucial partners in the creation of the app because if they don’t see the benefits then it really isn’t achieving what we want it to.
The bosses in GMP have been very supportive of Corporate Communications and encourage innovation in the use of digital and social technologies. We don’t have to ask permission but rather will seek forgiveness if things don’t go the right way. The app was almost complete when it had its first unveiling to senior officers.
Development began with the talent web developers that we are lucky enough to have been able to retain within the communications team. They are technically skilled but also have an understanding of the business of policing and the broader communications work. Without their ability in app development, both from existing knowledge and learning on the job, we could not have made the apps happen. All the developments have taken place in-house and we haven’t spent a penny on the creation of the apps. Officers and staff from across the Force could get involved in the development and testing so it is something that everyone owns not just the communication team.
There are hundreds and hundreds of apps in the digital world but many fail to make the most of the opportunities that technology brings. They are merely replications of websites or in the worst cases are vanity apps developed so a company or organisation can say they have an app. We wanted to do more, so much more.
We have a solid base now and work is already underway to use the technology to its full advantage. Of course, we would not do the work if people didn’t want it, but they do and they are also keen to help us with ideas and requests for what they want to see being delivered. We have listened and will continue to listen so that we can provide something that is useful for people and supports frontline policing.
Amanda Coleman is head of corporate communications at Greater Manchester Police.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons