Almost 90 officers faced disciplinary hearings over inoffensive or inappropriate commentary on social media like Facebook or Twitter last year, a freedom of information request has revealed.
Alleged offences included an officer from the Greater Manchester Police placing body-camera images on social networking sites, officers making jokes about incidents on Facebook and officers posting “sensitive” information online.
The figures, collected from 28 Police forces across England and Wales, is a significant increase on the past five years. A total of 519 incidents were reported between 2009 and 2014.
For example, in Cheshire a PC made a derogatory remark about a person’s business, while in Gloucestershire an officer was given a final written warning for ‘sending unwanted images via Facebook.’ A Sussex police officer was disciplined last year for calling fracking protesters ‘scum’ on Twitter.
The Metropolitan Police recorded the largest number of complaints since 2010, with 71 officers in the force facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Clare George-Hilley, director of Parliament Street, the think tank that sent the FOI request, said, “Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook play a vital role in tackling crime and building community relations. However, these findings demonstrate a haphazard approach to social media.”
Yesterday, The Lincolnshire Echo reported that Lincolnshire Police are investigating comments made on a social media site relating to elections.
It said that the force has refused to release any further details about the investigation.
Detective Sergeant Jarman, the lead for Electoral Malpractice in Lincolnshire Police, said: “It is a criminal offence for a person to make or publish any false statement of fact about a candidate’s personal character,"
The police force has had a history of data breaches, including an occasion where the email addresses of more than a thousand victims of crime were "shared" with other victims. Greater Manchester Police were hit with a £120,000 penalty from the Information Commissioners Office for the loss of sensitive information on more than 1,000 people in 2012.
The Association of Chief Police officers said: "Use of social media sites is governed by MPS's policies and working practices. The MPS does not tolerate any of its employees making inappropriate comments via the Internet. If any employee is identified as contributing material that is racist, homophobic, sexist, defamatory, offensive, illegal or deemed inappropriate, they may be subject to disciplinary procedures."