The Impacts of Police Messaging Services on Public Perceptions and Fear of Crime

This project explores the effectiveness of police community messaging systems, which provide users with local crime updates, appeals and safety advice. BCU researchers are conducting research to establish the effect of these systems on users, including measuring public perception as to whether the availability of this information, instead of making the community feel safe, is actually inducing public fear.

Police messaging systems large


Research background

Police community messaging systems deliver up to date, local information from police and partners directly to the signed-up users’ inbox (via voice message, email or text). These messages include a range of information, from local crime updates, local Neighbourhood Watch information, appeals, and safety/crime prevention advice. Users can also provide feedback on these messages, including comments and thoughts.

Communities play a crucial role in helping the Police prevent and detect crime and anti-social behaviour and these schemes were developed in an effort to improve the flow of information between the police and the people living and working across the areas which they serve, aiming at increasing public engagement. However, initial evaluations of such schemes indicate a range of barriers with regards to participation, and concerns have been raised as to whether they are having the desired effects and how helpful these methods actually are. Independent evaluations are currently lacking, and it is unclear how the public receive and utilise such information, and whether they perceive it to be of use/value.

It may be that rather than reassuring communities and making the public feel safer with regards to crime and criminal vulnerability, receipt of information regarding crime on your own doorstep actually increases fear of crime, as Hanslmaier (2013) suggests. The relationships between receipt of local crime information and personal fear of crime have yet to be explored empirically; however, tentative evidence regarding the impacts of media exposure on public fear of crime (see, for example: Nellis & Savage, 2012) highlights the need for research into public responses and fear of crime in relation to participation in, and exposure to, local crime alerts and participation in neighbourhood-based crime information schemes.

Research aims

This project aims to evaluate police messaging schemes in terms of a) how the public perceive these messages, b) the level of public engagement with the messaging services, c) the impact of messaging services on perceived police effectiveness, and d) how characteristics of the messages themselves impact on people’s perceptions and engagement. It will also explore the impact of messaging services on public fear of crime/victimisation, and perceptions of crime rates in their area.

Research methods

The research utilises both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. Qualitative data is being obtained via focus groups with community members, as well as through online questionnaires, where recipients of police messages will be invited to answer open ended questions regarding their perceptions and interpretation of these messages. Quantitative data is being collected via self-report questionnaires assessing perceptions of specific types of messages and perceived impact on fear of crime/victimisation and police effectiveness. Data mining of previous messaging content, histories and engaging metrics are also being used.

Projected research

Findings from this project will assist police in understanding whether such messaging services are achieving their aims, and whether they increase fear of crime rather than fostering feelings of safety and trust in the police. As such, the research will provide insight into what needs to and could be done to make them more effective for community engagement and reducing public fear of crime.

Based on the findings, suggestions and guidelines will be made with regards to the most effective way various messages could be communicated, in order for these messages to be more meaningful to the community but without them increasing fear of crime or distorting perceptions of crime rates and police effectiveness. 

This research is ongoing.