Almost a thousand police officers have been investigated for posting offensive content on social media, according to an investigation by the Daily Mail.
The investigation uncovered exchanges of misogynistic, sexist, racist and homophobic messages, including explicit photos. There were also reports of some officers sending sexual content to underage or vulnerable victims.
Last week PC Wayne Couzens was given a rare whole-life sentence for the murder, kidnap and rape of Sarah Everard. During his case, the court heard that he had exchanged degrading material with colleagues on WhatsApp before her kidnap took place.
Based on freedom of information requests, the Mail found that at least 999 police officers had been reported by members of the public or colleagues for misusing social media since 2015.
The number could be higher, however, as only 32 of the 44 police forces approached responded to the FOI requests.
Almost three-quarters of the allegations were considered serious enough to require disciplinary action, but only 53 staff have left the force as a result.
Social media abuse
The Metropolitan Police force recorded the highest number of allegations at 277, but did not provide details of the complaints. As the largest force by some margin, higher numbers are to be expected, however.
Avon and Somerset recorded 126 allegations, including a vulnerable female who complained that an officer had tried to contact her “extensively” using his force mobile.
One special constable in Surrey Police resigned after posting “inappropriate and racist” posts on social media, while another was disciplined for “racially offensive” Facebook posts.
Both forces said they encouraged appropriate use of social media and that any breaches would result in disciplinary action. Surrey Police told the Mail that most breaches involved personal rather than official accounts.
Earlier this year, the Independent Office for Police Conduct sent out a warning to officers that sharing offensive material via social media would result in investigation for misconduct.
IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said: “From racist, sexist, and other discriminatory comments to photographing crime scenes and using social media to contact victims of crime for sexual activity, it is concerning that a small number of police officers appear to think that this is acceptable behaviour.
“In the most serious examples we have seen grossly offensive images and messages which the public would be appalled by. Making discriminatory remarks, and the sharing of graphic and offensive memes and images, is unacceptable under any circumstances.”
“Officers can face serious disciplinary or even criminal consequences if they do not uphold the standards of professional behaviour.”
The College of Policing’s code of ethics encourages forces to use social media “responsibly and safely”; to ensure anything they post cannot be perceived as “discriminatory, abusive, oppressive, harassing, bullying, victimising, offensive or otherwise incompatible with policing principle; and not to publish any material online or elsewhere material that could “undermine your own reputation or that of the policing profession”.
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