Police officers investigated over social media guideline breaches

Hundreds of police officers in England and Wales have been investigated for breaching social media guidelines, Freedom of Information research has unveiled.


Hundreds of police officers in England and Wales have been investigated for breaching social media guidelines, Freedom of Information research has unveiled.

The breaches, which occurred between 2009 and February 2014, include trying to befriend crime victims on Facebook and making racist, homophobic or “religiously aggressive” comments online.

According to the Press Association’s research, nine percent of the 828 cases in England and Wales during the five-year period ended up in a resignation, dismissal or retirement.

For example, two special constables resigned from Northamptonshire Police after being pictured on a website in a “compromising position”.

Fourteen percent of cases resulted in no further action being taken. In most cases, advice was offered to the officer who breached the guidelines.

Greater Manchester Police had the highest number of investigations (88), followed by the West Midlands (74) and the Metropolitan Police (69).

The College of Policing sets standards for ethics and integrity among police officers. In its Code of Ethics, it says that officers must “use social media responsibly and safely” and “ensure that nothing you publish online can be reasonably be perceived by the public or your policing colleagues to be discriminatory, abusive, oppressive, harassing, bullying, victimising, offensive or otherwise incompatible with policing principles”.

In a statement, chief constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, said: “People working in policing must always be mindful of the high standards that the public expect from us. Our Code of Ethics, which was launched last month, sets out the standards which everyone in the service should strive to uphold whether at work or away from work, online or offline.

“The vast majority of police officers and staff uphold these high standards and in many cases are responsible for challenging and reporting colleagues who act improperly or unlawfully. Where people working in policing have undermined their own reputation or that of the wider service, they must face appropriate action.

He added: “There is no place in policing for officers who abuse the trust placed in us by the public.”

Examples of cases

In examples of reported incidents, a sergeant with the Devon and Cornwall Police was given a written warning after making comments about senior officers on Facebook. A community support officer with the same force received a final written warning after posing with weapons on the social media site.

In Gwent, a police officer was given a written warning after asking a female member of the public to be his friend on Facebook during a house visit. Another officer from the force also received a written warning for using Facebook to send an “abusive” message to a member of the public.

Meanwhile, in central London, a civilian officer was investigated for posting a comment online about Muslims in the capital failing to observe a two-minute silence.

In June, research found that the number of incidents of police posting slurs and sensitive details on social media had risen significantly,

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.

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