Hundreds of police investigated over social media misuse

A Metropolitan police officer uses a smart phone

One officer tried to befriend a victim on Facebook while others sent racist or homophobic messages

LAST UPDATED AT 11:24 ON Tue 19 Aug 2014

More than 800 police workers have been investigated for breaching police guidelines on social media in the last five years.

Of the 828 cases in England and Wales, from January 2009 to February this year, nine per cent ended in resignation, dismissal or retirement, according to research by the Press Association.

Various forces revealed that staff or officers were investigated for comments deemed homophobic, racist or "religiously aggressive".

One police constable from Gwent Police was given a written warning after sending an "abusive" Facebook message to a member of the public. Another officer from the same force received the same punishment for "inappropriately" asking a female member of the public to be his friend on Facebook during a house visit.

Two special constables had to resign from Northamptonshire Police after being pictured on a website in a "compromising position" and a community support officer with Devon and Cornwall Police received a final written warning after posing with weapons on Facebook.

One police staff member posted a comment on Facebook about Muslims in central London failing to observe a two-minute silence. It was alleged the language used "could be regarded as offensive/inappropriate or likely to cause offence to other persons".

Chief Constable Alex Marshall, head of the College of Policing, the professional body that sets standards for the police service, said that officers and staff who undermine their own reputation or that of the wider service "must face appropriate action".

However, he noted that the "vast majority" of people working in policing uphold the "high standards" expected from the public. Out of the 209,362 police officers and staff in England and Wales, the average number of workers investigated each year for breaching social media amounted to just 0.08 per cent. One in seven of those cases resulted in no further action and the majority of officers and staff were simply offered advice.

"These figures include relatively minor matters, which can be dealt with by management advice, through to cases of misconduct which, quite rightly have resulted in officers and staff losing their jobs," said Marshall. "There is no place in policing for officers who abuse the trust placed in us by the public." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.