Police officers disciplined over their behaviour on Facebook

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More than 200 complaints have been made against police officers for comments or photographs posted on Facebook in the last four years.

At least two officers were sacked, seven quit and more than 150 faced other disciplinary action, figures from 41 of the 43 forces in England and Wales show.

Officers have used the popular social networking site, which has 30 million users in the UK, to harass former partners and ex-colleagues, to comment on others’ wives, and to suggest they had beaten up members of the public during protests.

Some even revealed details of police operations, tried to befriend victims of crime, or were caught in inappropriate photographs, forces said.

The details, released under the Freedom of Information Act, come as a review into police corruption found there was a “significant blurring” between officers’ personal and professional lives on social networking sites which risked damaging the service’s reputation.

One officer with the Hampshire force was dismissed without notice in 2009 for posting a racist comment on Facebook.

The figures cover between 2008 and 2010, but a second officer was sacked this year for referring to another officer as a “grass” and a “liar” on Facebook and harassing a female colleague.

Seven other officers – two special constables from the Dorset force and officers from Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Essex, North Wales, and South Yorkshire – resigned.

The South Yorkshire officer resigned following an allegation of improper disclosure of information on Facebook, while others posted inappropriate comments or pictures.

Another officer, Pc Nestor Costa, of Devon and Cornwall Police, was fined three days pay in 2008 after he called for violence against suspects in custody.

Under a video of a youth with a knife being tackled by officers in a police station, he wrote: “Look at this stupid c***, hope he gets a good f****** shoeing in the cells.”

In all, a total of 187 complaints were made against officers over their use of Facebook, with nine officers given final written warnings, 47 given written warnings and one given a formal warning.

Roger Baker, who led a review into police corruption for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), said: “Social networking is seen as a risk by all forces and authorities, but there are limited or inconsistent policies around what is acceptable, what you should do, what you shouldn’t do.

“We found a significant blurring between people’s professional lives on social networking sites and their private lives which may be in the public domain and private lives which probably should remain extremely private.”

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said that while the service recognised the widespread benefits of social networking sites, it “also understands the risks relating to compromise, operational effectiveness and reputational damage”.

Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, Acpo’s lead for professional standards, added: “Whilst officers and staff have a right to privacy and to share opinions and experiences with friends and associates, they should also be aware of the risk they are subject to when they identify themselves as being a member of the service.”

simon.bristow@ypn.co.uk

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