Police officers investigated for flouting Facebook and Twitter rules in Cleveland and Durham forces

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POLICE force employees have been investigated for breaching guidelines on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

There were 15 cases of staff flouting the code of conduct within Cleveland Police in the last five years, and one instance at Durham Constabulary.

The figures came to light following a Freedom of Information request to police forces across the country.

Both forces refused to comment on the nature of the incidents – except to say they were to do with officers’ and staff’s personal accounts.

But nationally the reasons for reprimands included racist content, making threatening comments on Facebook and Twitter, sending friend requests to victims of crime and uploading images of colleagues in ‘compromising positions’.

A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: “Officers and staff are regularly reminded about appropriate social media content.

“Anything that is deemed inappropriate may be dealt with as a misconduct issue.”

Darren Ellis, head of Professional Standards and Legal Services for Durham Constabulary, said: “The fact that only one member of staff from Durham Constabulary has been investigated in relation to use of social media is a reflection of the strong policy and training methods we have in place relating to this topic.

“We provide guidance to police officers and staff to assist them in setting up and managing accounts, and monitor activity to ensure that the policy is adhered to. We strive to ensure that all staff members recognise acceptable standards of behaviour. I am pleased that these figures demonstrate that the systems we have put in place are working.”

Countrywide, a total of 828 cases were reported to police bosses, ranging from social media gaffes to sackable offences which threatened to bring forces into disrepute.

About 14 per cent of all investigations resulted in no further action or the personnel having no case to answer, and 9 per cent of cases ending in a resignation, dismissal or retirement.

The Association of Chief Police Officer’s guidelines state officers and police staff should avoid using the internet while off-duty or after having drunk alcohol, due to the potential for their judgement to be impaired.

They also warn of the propensity for criminals to trawl the internet and identify personal information about police employees “with a view to embarrassing, discrediting, harassing, corrupting or blackmailing them or their families for their own benefit”.

It adds: “It is recommended police remove personal details from the edited electoral roll, ensure telephone numbers are ex-directory, ask Google maps to remove pictures of their house, car or persons.”