Police investigate hundreds of social media breaches - by staff

RACIST and threatening comments, images of colleagues in “compromising positions” and befriending victims of crime were just some of the some of the social media gaffes committed by police officers and staff.

Police tape on Spring Hill near Bagdale Hall, Whitby w130801h

Hundreds of police employees were investigated for breaching social media guidelines at forces across England and Wales during a five-year period, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

A total of 828 cases were reported to police bosses, ranging from minor breaches on Facebook and Twitter to sackable offences which threatened to bring forces into disrepute.

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Yorkshire’s four forces had a total of 117 breaches between January 2009 and February 2014, with the most in North Yorkshire. The force ranked fifth worst across England and Wales, with 46 cases. West Yorkshire Police, the fourth largest force in the country, had 35, Humberside had 23, and South Yorkshire had 13.

A civilian with South Yorkshire Police who was accused of harassing an ex-partner via Facebook resigned prior to misconduct proceedings, the force said.

About a seventh of all investigations resulted in no further action or the personnel having no case to answer, compared with around a tenth which ended in a resignation, dismissal or retirement.

In Lancashire, a member of civilian staff received a written warning over derogatory remarks posted on their Facebook page about a colleague who had issued the staff member with a fine for dog fouling.

A fellow constable resigned over their “excessive and inappropriate use of the internet during working hours”, in particular the Pc’s use of online auction sites, and social networking sites.

A PC with Gwent Police, acted inappropriately while attending a member of the public’s home address and asked her to become a friend on Facebook, later sending a message. They received a written warning.

Two special constables in Northampton resigned after they were pictured on Facebook in a “compromising position”.

Various forces also said there were investigations into comments that were deemed homophobic, racist or “religiously aggressive”.

Greater Manchester Police reported the most investigations, with a total of 88, followed by 74 for West Midlands Police and 69 for the Metropolitan Police. Of all those investigated, 548 were police officers, compared with 175 civilian staff and 31 PCSOs.

Professional standards body the College of Policing said its Code of Ethics set out the standards which everyone in the service should strive to uphold “whether at work or away from work, online or offline.”

Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, added: “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 said there was “no place” in policing for officers who abuse the public’s trust.

North Yorkshire Police said the high number of investigations into reported breaches “reflects how seriously we take the integrity of our staff.”

During the period, two employees were required to resign, with a further 10 receiving disciplinary action, said Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick.