How can updating social media policy add value to UK Police forces?

DCC Ian Hopkins of Greater Manchester Police

As a new report is published uncovering Police social media behaviour over the last 5 years we discover hundreds of cases of alleged Police misuse or misconduct of ‘social media’. Several cases of officers blurring the boundaries between personal and professional activity often confusing personal authority, professional responsibility and private life.

The report uncovers several instances where officers have been found to be abusive towards victims of crime, disclosing inappropriate imagery and opinion, friending suspects and victims and many other cases where, from the opinion of a social media consultant, it is clear that officers and police professional need guidance on interactivity boundaries per channel.

These are simply a handful of horror stories our devious press choose to disclose and present as, a typically skewed example of modern British Police bungle efforts on social media, but some of the best ways they are using it are being hidden and often suppressed by seniors through fear of publicity risk, as is the case of ‘Mental Health Cop’ blogger, Michael Brown and Newquey Sergeant Reginald Butler. On one side constabularies own corporate communication departments actively encourage the proper use of social media to investigate leads and enhance relationships with local communities, but on the other side management are quick to prevent police staff using social for risk of misconduct largely due to a misunderstanding of the risks and a basic ‘fear of the unknown’. So far Police social media policy largely lies on ill-informed and out-dated documentation, desperately in need of being dragged into 2014 by those that are brave enough to experiment and intelligent enough to get it right – or at least swiftly resolve issues as outlined by anonymous Police blog ‘The Custody Report’.

In the recent highlight of the worst of Police social media use leading ‘digital Police’ representatives have come forward to defend the force and highlight their own triumphs such as Greater Manchester Police’ Ian Hopkins, and Surrey Police Chief Constable Lynn Owens.

UK individuals and constabularies are, however, becoming shining examples of how Policing groups and individual officers can flourish in serving and connecting to their local communities and become thought leaders in modern British policing while doing so.

How can we guide modern police forces in using social media? Much like face to face or ‘street level’ engagement with the public, officers need practical guidance and clear and realistic informed policy on acceptable behaviour when using on-line tools to aid their own professional conduct, to make sure they represent themselves and their constabulary properly, without risk of error or misconduct.

Our very own Katy Howell has suggested simple tips to aid Police Social Media Policy but what more can we offer as social consultants?

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