For those Social Mediaites that don’t already know, there’s a war going on, and its a sticky one between the public sector and the web. I was fortunate enough to find this out at a recent event, excellently organised by the Social Media students at Birmingham City University, called Authority 2.0.

The conference did a great job of wrestling the true nature of the problems faced by local police forces to the ground. The conference was full of well intentioned members of various police forces from across the Midlands, all of whom wanted to engage with local communities via social media to make what is a very difficult job slightly easier – diagnosing criminal problems at a local, rather than regional level.

For the small room it was hosted in, the team at BCU did a fantastic job of drawing all of the right people into what turned out to be a great discussion. The conference opened with Paul Hadley from BCU, who spoke about some of the things forces are currently doing, and some ways in which they could improve. A particularly nice example was a live blogging project implemented by Derbyshire Constabulary, which managed to communicate with Derby residents at a community level straight away. Paul’s opening remarks set the tone for the rest of the conference – if you want to engage through social media, you need to dive in and be prepared for some elements to fail.

Second up was Will Perrin, a man who’s managed to achieve a great deal through his hyperlocal community site Kings Cross is an area that sees above average crime, and particularly murder, levels for the UK. By using his blog to pull together crime information and data, sometimes before local police even know about it, he’s providing an invaluable local resource to bring people together and educate the community about how to counter crime.

Will’s talk also raised an interesting issue that stuck in my mind. A youth in his area (I won’t mention his name), known throughout for committing a string of petty crimes, is understandably name checked a few times on the site. After a Google search on his name, Will’s website came top, which, being someone who believes in rehabilitation, gives him a rather tricky moral dilemma.

This has played on my mind ever since. There’s clearly two forces for good at odds with each other here, and its difficult to know which one should prevail. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d be interested to know your standpoint.

I’m only half way through the mass of interesting topics raised at this conference, so in the interests of getting it all out of my head, I’m going to spread it across two posts!

More to come soon…