UK police social media breaches revealed: employees made threatening remarks, posed with weapons, sent friend requests to victims

Freedom of Information requests reveal 828 cases since 2009
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Hundreds of police officers in England and Wales have been investigated for improper use of social media from 2009 to February this year.

Officers and police staff made threatening and racist remarks online, uploaded images of colleagues in “compromising positions” and sent friend requests on Facebook to victims of crime, according to new research published by the Press Association.

A total of 828 cases were reported, with 9 per cent of these ending in resignation, dismissal ore retirement and 14 per cent resulting in no further action at all. The majority of other cases were settled through advice and guidance offered to the officer in questions.

Incidents revealed by Freedom of Information requests include:

  • A constable who resigned over “excessive and inappropriate use of the internet during working hours” including online auction sites and social media
  • A PC received a written warning after sending messages to a member of the public of an “abusive nature”
  • A police community support officer (PCSO) with Devon & Cornwall police received a warning for posing with weapons in photos on Facebook
  • An employee with Dyfed Powys force was accused of sending “threatening, bullying and intimidating” messages on Facebook to a complainant
  • A civilian police employee who posted a comment on Facebook about Muslims in central London failing to observe the two-minute silence
  • A PC from Gwent police asked to become a member of the public’s friend on Facebook after visiting her house in the course of their duties
  • Two special constables with Northampton police resigned after photos appeared on Facebook of them in a “compromising position”
  • Various forces reported staff investigating for comments online that were deemed racist, homophobic or “religiously aggressive”

Guidelines set down by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) advises officers and police staff to avoid the internet while drinking alcohol or off-duty, warning individuals that if they are recognisable as police employees then they have to take into account the code of ethics.

“There is no place in policing for officers who abuse the trust placed in us by the public,” said Chief Constable Alex Marshall of the College of Policing.

In total the Greater Manchester police reported the highest number of investigations (88) followed by West Midlands (74) and the Metropolitan police (69). Of the individuals investigated 548 were police officers, 174 were civilian employees and 31 were PCSOs.