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Rural communities use WhatsApp to help with thefts and MISPERS

In a scheme that has been going for four years, members of rural communities across Durham share information via WhatsApp including on missing persons and stolen items.

Rural communities across Teesdale, Weardale and Middleton-in-Teesdale have been using WhatsApp groups to share information and help Durham Police.

It means that information across wide geographical areas can be shared instantly and be either picked up or passed on to the force.

Durham do not take the lead on it because WhatsApp as a platform is not secure enough, and as it is not monitored 24/7 -  it’s also not a platform for reporting crime.

Inspector Ed Turner told Police Oracle: “To say it’s been a success would be an understatement – it has revolutionised how we deal with and tackle rural policing in the Dales.

“Rural areas count for at least 50-60 per cent of the geographical area for our force.  

“We can’t have this as a method of reporting to the police – it’s all about information sharing." 

Insp Turner explained that four years ago on the back of a rise in rural crime, three WhatsApp groups were set up in partnership with Rural Watch and Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services, who manage and sort the admin for each group.

“They are run and managed and policed with a small “p” by the people in those communities,” he explained.  

“We are part of that so we monitor it and will put information on there such as updates as well as requests for information following a crime or a particular incident including someone missing with dementia or a cow found wandering on the road somewhere - we’ll take a picture and in minutes we can find out where it’s from.”

He gave an example of a recent stolen quad bike which was found within 24 messages, 70 miles away.

“You could have had 50 cops and you couldn’t have had that success,” he said.

It’s also been used in conjunction with location service ‘what3words’ to find people showing signs of being suicidal. 

If something of concern was mentioned on the group, the admin could take charge and call 101 or 999 the usual way. Officers are also present in the chats - but need to do so voluntarily and on their personal phones due once again to the security of the platform.

Local neighbourhood teams can look back and monitor messages to identify opportunities for ring backs and intelligence gathering.

The groups overlap into bordering forces- including Cumbria and North Yorkshire, but it’s something that Insp Turner hopes will expand more in the future – particularly with regards to urban fringe areas.

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