TEENAGERS are helping Cambridgeshire police officers to decipher their #hashtags from their DMs (direct messages) in an initiative aimed at reaching young victims of crime.

Teenage users of the microblogging website Twitter have been visiting Cambridgeshire police headquarters in Huntingdon to help officers hone their @cambscops messages.

The Twitter page for the constabulary has more than 4,000 followers, and has produced nearly 650 tweets since it was set up last October.

Chief Constable Simon Parr told The Hunts Post that officers were keen not to come across like “older men in jeans” and were liaising with teenagers to ensure they were getting their message across.

“Twitter is a different way of doing business. People are now contacted by things going viral on their mobiles. We want to be, and I hate the phrase, ‘down with the kids.’

“We are using teenagers to come in and [tell] us ‘This is how it works, this is how you will come across.’ We need to understand how they use it.

“Most victims of assault are under 20 years of age, and a huge percentage of victims are assaulted while intoxicated.

“While most teenagers do not read a newspaper or listen to local radio, they have got phones and use the internet. This is a different way of getting the message across in a way they understand.”

In addition to @cambscops, Supt Paul Fullwood, Peterborough’s deputy divisional commander of policing, has more than 1,200 followers of his Twitter page @suptpaul.

Speaking at a news conference last Wednesday, Mr Parr said Twitter and social media had been invaluable during last month’s riots.

They were used to dismiss inaccurate rumours and publish CCTV images of suspects involved in an attempted disturbance in Cambridge.

Followers for @cambscops and @suptpaul tripled to more than 5,000 during the week-long operation. The CCTV images were viewed 21,000 times, and there was a 200 per cent increase in visits to the force’s website.

Mr Parr said: “There was a lot of press about Twitter being used to organise the riots but the use of it for us was tremendous. We had dozens and dozens of tweets from people saying ‘This was really reassuring.’

“What we do with Facebook and social media is a superb way of getting into communities.”

The Riots:

Figures released last week at a Cambridgeshire Police news briefing showed the force spent £350,000 on increased policing during the disturbances in early August.

The additional cost of £600,000 for sending 406 county officers to London will be picked up by the Metropolitan Police.

Rest days had to be cancelled and shift patterns rearranged to ensure extra patrols.

Special constables also contributed more than 1,500 hours to policing during the operation, some of whom were given time off work to help police the county.

Mr Parr paid tribute to their efforts amid a climate of budget cuts and job losses. He said: “When something happens police officers forget their disgruntlement. People were coming up and working when asked without a moan.”

Collaboration:

The merger of Cambridgeshire Police’s firearms support unit and major crime division with their counterparts in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire is expected to take place within the next six months.

Meanwhile plans to combine the three forces’ call centres and human resources departments will be discussed by Cambridgeshire Police Authority in November.

So far the force has made £7million savings. It must make £17m by 2013. Mr Parr admitted the merger plans, known as collaboration, were difficult to negotiate.

He said: “We are three organisations that have to stay separate but are trying to work together where 60 percent of what they do is done on behalf of all three of them.

“We are three chiefs and three police authorities - we must come up with a six-headed agreement that has got to make £25-30million of savings.”

Police helicopter:

Cambridgeshire Police’s £3.9million helicopter will be mothballed within the next three months, it was confirmed by Chief Constable Simon Parr last week.

Instead air cover will be provided by a number of organisations including the Chiltern Air Support Unit, which has helicopters based at RAF Henlow, Bedfordshire, and RAF Benson.

Ruth Rogers, chairman of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority said members of a working party were working out the finer details.

“These changes are part of a national programme to make sure everywhere has effective air cover. We are making certain we have got the same air cover, and high response and operational flying hours.

“We will not be relying on a single helicopter. The new arrangement will give us value for money and the cover that we need. We want to do the best that we can and believe the arrangement will help.”

Sex offences:

A central team will be set up to investigate sexual offences, it was revealed by the Chief Constable last week.

The new unit, based in Cambridge???, will be responsible for all cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault in the county, and will be made up of specialist officers.

The police, nationally, have been criticised for their handling of rape cases in the past. Only last week the BBC revealed that 12 per cent of rape reports were classed as ‘no crimes’ in the country.

Figures released last week show in Cambridgeshire around 15 per cent of victims of crime from September 2010 to July 2011 were dissatisfied with the police.

Mr Parr said: “Some of that 15 per cent are around some of our most vulnerable victims - hate crimes and sexual offences, so that is why areas such as domestic violence and sexual assault are going to be managed and investigated centrally by specialist officers.”

Recruitment:

The number of frontline staff will remain the same despite ongoing budget cuts, Chief Constable Simon Parr has pledged.

At present there are 1011 police constables in Cambridgeshire and Mr Parr has said the force will be looking to recruit 50 new PCs at the end of March to ensure that number stays level.

More than 200 people applied for 15 jobs as police community support officers with the force last month. More PCSO roles will be available early next year.

However Mr Parr said some senior manager roles in the force are at risk.