'Social media crimes' account for half of calls to front-line police, says senior UK officer

'Traditional offences' such as harassment and threats had moved from the physical world to the digital, said officers

Responding to online offences such as threats on social media make up “at least half” of a calls to some front line police, a senior office has said.

Chief Constable Alex Marshall, head of the College of Policing, told the BBC: “As people have moved their shopping online and their communications online, they’ve also moved their insults, their abuse and their threats online.”

Mr Marshall said that while "officers dealing with less serious crimes and anti-social behaviour” might handle dozen calls on a typical day, it wouldn't be long “before pretty much every investigation that the police conduct will have an online element to it,” adding “it's a real problem for people working on the front line of policing.”

Around 6,000 officers are being trained to deal with online offences related to social media including bullying, harassment, abuse, and death threats.

Mr Marshall said that while a front-line officer might deal with a dozen calls on a typical day, they can expect “that at least half of them, whether around antisocial behaviour or abuse or threats of assault may well relate to social media, Facebook, Twitter or other forms."

Other officers agreed with Mr Marshall’s comments, with Det Con Roger Pegram of the Greater Manchester Police, noting that these were “traditional offences” that can now be committed “from the comfort of your own home.”

Another officer, who spoke to the BBC but remained anonymous, said: "A lot of the time […] it's that whole attitude of, 'I don't know what to do, I'll call the police, they'll sort it out for me.'

"It should be a case of let's be sensible, let's not be friends with that person on Facebook, perhaps contact Facebook first or don't use Facebook. It's common-sense stuff."

However, this testimony from officers is not yet reflected in official police figures – mostly because online offences such as threats or harassment are recorded under traditional categories. This has made it difficult to gauge the true impact of social media to officers’ work-loads.

The Home Office has introduced a ‘flagging’ system to highlight online crime and further understand police understanding. This system is currently voluntary but will become mandatory by 2015/16.

A report in March suggested that ‘Twitter crimes’ have doubled in the last three years, with incidents involving Facebook rising from just under 10,000 in 2011 to just over 13,000 in 2013.

Update: This article was amended on 24/06/2014. It originally stated that 'Social media crimes account for half of front-line policing' based on the BBC's report. The BBC has since amended this to reflect the fact that half of calls received by police - not half of total  police time - dealt with social media crimes.

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