UK police are breaching social media guidelines

Police forces in England and Wales have investigated 828 police breaches of social media guidelines since February 2009.

We’re used to criminals being stupid on social media, whether it’s sharing photos of stuff they’ve, er, dishonestly acquired, or logging onto Facebook using other people’s property. But we expect the police to be a little more savvy. Sadly, in some cases, that trust is misplaced.

Some of the violations were simply unprofessional, like asking witnesses to be Facebook friends, slagging off senior colleagues, and spending too much time on social networks during work hours. Others were incriminating, including posing with weapons. Worst of all, a proportion of breaches were homophobic, racist, or otherwise discriminatory.

Greater Manchester Police instigated the most investigations, followed by West Midlands and the Metropolitan Police. Of all cases that were investigated, just 9% resulted in a resignation or firing. In 14%, no action was taken. Advice on rethinking their approach to social (and maybe on not being horrifically prejudiced?) was given to the majority of officers.

Chief executive of the College of Policing Alex Marshall told the BBC that social media can be a useful way for the police to keep in touch with local communities. But he emphasised that the informal nature of these sites shouldn’t mean a drop in values. ‘People working in policing must always be mindful of the high standards that the public expect from us,’ he said.

Last month, the police college launched a code of ethics to make clear the behaviour expected of all officers. Whether they can spare the time from Facebook to actually read it remains to be seen.

Image via Ingy The Wingy’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley