NEIGHBOURHOOD officers in the town are attempting to prove it is possible to police on the internet.

North Swindon and the town centre neighbourhood policing teams have taken to social media site Facebook in a bid to try to engage more widely with the public, as well as appeal for information on incidents.

Reports of anti-social behaviour, safety advice around bike thefts and arrests all feature on the sites and officers have said it could prove a useful tool on missing person cases – such as the abduction of five-year-old April Jones from near her home in Machynlleth, in West Wales.

The pages, run separately, launched earlier this year and have already attracted small followings, leading beat managers in the respective areas to call the venture a success.

PC Matt Lewis, community beat manager for Haydon Wick, said: “The use of social media has been around for quite a while but it is now apparent more people want to communicate and receive news via sites like Facebook.

“We want to tap into that because we can reach out to potentially thousands of people within minutes with either positive news stories, appeals or crime prevention advice.

“We could even use it for missing person appeals, and have uploaded the picture of the little girl abducted in Wales. That can be so powerful because people can have that picture up on their smartphone instantly.

“One of my PCSOs, Emma Harriman, has a journalism background and we have used her skills to set up the page and make it worth reading. Since setting up in July we have made it to 303 likes, which means those people are getting our updates directly, so I’d say it’s been a fantastic success so far.

“The majority of our readers are women but what we have found is that the fastest growing demographic is teenagers, which is great as we can reach out to them directly whereas they might not use traditional forms.

“We of course will continue to hold face-to-face surgeries and be available via 101, but Facebook is free for anyone who has not got it.”

But PC Lewis points out: “I would stress Facebook is not for reporting crimes.”

To receive regular updates from North Swindon Police or town centre police visit their Facebook pages and click like. To report an incident call 101 in a non-emergency, or 999 in an emergency.