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Police Cautioned Over Use Of Social Media

Officers Get The Facebook Thrown At Them

The long arm of the law now holds a smartphone. The police are just as plugged in as anyone else, and while in some cases this can be a force for good on an organisational scale – @SeattlePD has drawn compliments for its informative and reactive Twitter feed – it is at the individual level that trouble can arise.

Hundreds of police officers in England and Wales are being investigated for misuse of social media relating to their job, according to newly released documents. From 2009 to the present 828 cases were reported, of which 9% resulted in resignation, dismissal, or retirement.

While of course there is no shortage of people willing to post regrettable things on social media, in the case of police officers the stakes are a little higher. It is difficult to maintain the trust and respect of the public when you are, as two officers in Northampton were, found pictured on a website in a ‘compromising position.’

Other offences included an officer in Gwent who ‘inappropriately’ asked a member of the public to be his friend on Facebook during a home visit, a community support officer with the Devon and Cornwall Police who was reprimanded after posing with weapons on Facebook, and a constable who resigned after ‘excessive and inappropriate use’ of auction sites and social media during work hours.

More serious cases involved members of the force being investigated for homophobic, racist, and ‘religiously aggressive’ comments, and for sending members of the public abusive messages via social media.

In addition there were plenty of the classic cases of junior officers making less than complimentary remarks about senior officers and management in general.

Greater Manchester Police reported the most investigations at 88, followed by West Midlands at 74 and the Met at 69. Hampshire, Merseyside, Essex, and Staffordshire declined to release their figures. Overall the number of cases represented a little over 0.5% of the total number of officers in the UK.

Different forces issued varying guidelines to their officers as to how to behave online. Cheshire Police suggested avoiding the use of ‘police speak’ (using ‘people,’ ‘man,’ and ‘woman’ rather than ‘persons,’ ‘male,’ and ‘female’) while the Avon and Somerset Constabulary gave the solid advice ‘Do not tweet: your dinner/biscuits/doughnuts.’ The national Association of chief Police Officers discouraged staff from using social media while drinking, and warns that compromising themselves online can leave officers and their families open to blackmail and harassment by criminal elements as well as bringing the name of the force into disrepute.

Most forces have offered the simple advice of ‘If you wouldn’t say it to your boss, partner, grandmother or a member of the public, don’t say it online.’

Engagement with social media is a necessary part of modern policing. A report from earlier this year revealed that ‘at least half’ of complaints passed on to front-line officers originated from social media in the form of threats or abuse. Since there is as yet no specific category for crimes originating online, quantifying the exact number is difficult.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Police Cautioned Over Use Of Social Media Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 Rating: 5
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