UK | Police and free speech. Part 1: A civilians POV on the governments attempt to silence PO personal twitter accounts
First off, yes, the image above is racy, and edgy, and may leave you scratching your head and wondering. Let me explain –
For a few months now Occupy Police has been adamant about civilians connecting with officers on a personal level via social media. We’ve heavily promoted things like #copchat and attempted to foster group discussions ranging from police surveillance to favorite movies. There are a lot of reasons for this. First off, lets clear the air here and try to cast aside any doubt that the general public doesn’t hold a bit of fear in their hearts when they think of the police. To think otherwise is just foolish, it’s complete denial. People are afraid of the police. Besides some of the more obvious reasons like the fact that officers can arrest or fine you, I found myself staring at the hard fact that officers and citizens don’t really know or understand each other, there’s hardly any contact, and when there is contact, it’s usually bad – Fact: People fear what they don’t understand. Here’s where our push to connect police and the public via social media (and beyond) comes in, and the issues we face while pushing the idea forward.
First let me backtrack to earlier this year. Everyone who follows anything, that has anything to do with ‘occupy’ knows that we are pro-jobs, and (at least at OP) talk about police issues. So it should come as no surprise that when we heard 16,000 police jobs in the UK were up on the chopping block, we were gonna say something, and we weren’t alone. Many officers who had personal twitter accounts prior to this news had taken up the discussion as well. I mean, if you were about to be layed off alongside thousands of others what would you do, would you talk about it? I hope you would..
So now (at least in the UK) we have a lot of unhappy officers who have personal twitter accounts with personal relationships built and they fire off the occasional tweet about what they are dealing with (mentioned above) with hope that someone will listen. (Last time I checked that’s normal) The fact is that there aren’t a lot of people listening and the government is going to do what they want and cut as many cops as they want.. So, police aren’t happy, they’re not angry, or mad or enraged, but maybe sad.. morale is very low right now. That’s normal when you feel like the public doesn’t like you or understand you and the government doesn’t care about you, you’re going to feel a little hurt, you’ll still do your job, because you like helping people, but you’re gonna do it with some hurt, and you’re gonna want to talk about it, you’re gonna want someone to listen.. unless you’re the Terminator and you don’t feel anything. In a nutshell this is what officers in the UK have done, they’re opening up on a personal level and they’re talking about it, and have been for a while, and the government doesn’t like it. That brings me to today.
I received a letter from a civilian in the UK who took to twitter a while back because he/she hoped to connect with some officers, male of female on a personal level. (I’m not going to mention names or gender) The civilian didn’t like the police, it may be fear like I mentioned above, it may have been a bad incident from their past, I don’t know, I’m not going to pry. In the letter I’m told that some of the officers they’ve connected with are being forced off twitter by the government, and being told not to discuss things as simple as how they feel, or they could face prison. This person has written to us on a very personal level and explained to us what is happening, and how this affects them, as a civilian. I think this is very important, and should be read by every officer in the UK, so here it is –
The letter: A civilians personal story of support for and from officers via social media and how that is being threatened right now -
So, I’ve never liked the Police much, although in general I knew they would help and did when the need arose, then I joined Twitter. At first just one or two police officers tweeting in purely personal capacity started to engage with me. I found them to be humorous about their daily lives and occasional references to their work crept in as online relationships grewâ€¦ gradually a few more popped up on my timeline and my bias was challenged, these were ordinary people just like me, with very difficult jobs to do.
Then it all changed
So, I’ve never liked the Police much…
People Iâ€™d grown to love and respect came to me in distress because they had been suspended from work over what seemed to me, to be the tiniest of reasons related to things they had tweeted. Weeks and weeks ensued of stress, waiting to see if their *crime* would see them forced from the vocation they loved and were passionately committed to. I did not like or agree with this. Obviously if a severe breech of conduct had been committed I would have agreed with the action taken whilst an investigation was carried out, but to my eyes it often looked like a whim, or attack or paranoia on the part of their senior officers, there was no real uniform way that the SM guidelines were being applied. It seemed to be a geographical lottery! More and more police officers appeared on my timeline, many using names that made them anonymousâ€¦now I understood why.
…my bias was challenged, these were ordinary people just like me, with very difficult jobs to do…
I realise that it is all new to the Police and will take time to come to terms with how to use it but does management accompany officers 24/7 listening to their words both on and off duty? Of course not! So why do many in senior management have so little faith in their officerâ€™s ability to use SM as adults, warranted adults at that?
Then I heard tales of officers whose forces wanted to know if they used SM and if they did so the force wanted to know their usernames and passwordsâ€¦hmmm I didnâ€™t like the sound of that neither did some of the officers I spoke with and they left SM. I even heard of officers being visited at home being intimidated into supplying this information. Yes, this is anecdotal but I have no real reason to doubt as the story was corroborated from more than one source. Possibly urban myth but my gut tells me not so.
Move on through time, DCCTayside ACPO lead for SM, had a message printed in the Guardian where he lauded the use of SM and indicated the trust he had in his tweeting officers and that *mistakes* should be dealt with via more trainingâ€¦sounds reasonable. But hang on the very same day the tweeting officers of Northants all announced they were stopping tweeting. The information I was given was that HMIC had done an audit and recommended this action, presumably for more training not a blanket ban in line with their own report? Hmmm, is HMIC trying to undermine ACPO? I donâ€™t know but if this was where the advice came from it sure as hell feels like it!
Now letâ€™s just take a peep at *official police tweeters* many are good and interactive but sadly most are bland and quite frankly patronising to their audience in the information they give, not worthy of a follow unless youâ€™re a sheep!
Then someone posted a blog about police use of SM saying that some were *occupational terrorists* So, this person is saying that there are some police officers who are deliberately setting out to undermine and destroy the office they work for? I am shocked about thisâ€¦it seems a rather radical title to use. To this day I have not encountered one officer who didnâ€™t want his/her job to be apolitical, without fear or favour resourced adequately so that the public is served. I cannot say the same about some of the higher ranks, or the corporate advisors Iâ€™ve met.
I have a simple mind, doesnâ€™t bother me but it makes some thoughts slowâ€¦I do however find it difficult to understand how an officer has the power to take away someoneâ€™s liberty but is not at liberty to tweet truths, uncomfortable ones but truths all the same about resourcing and morale. Now this bit is flabbergasting.
Today The Guardian hosted a debate regarding police morale. Who would you feel qualified to speak on this? Naively I thought officers on the groundâ€¦imagine my surprise to discover that if they actively took part they could be criminalised.
Of course, this is just my thoughts but these things bring the Police Force into more disrepute to me than the odd misguided officer. Transparency is evident at grassroots level, only opaque at best higher up. – END
I find this troublesome. We’re not talking about wiki leaks here, or officers leaking intelligence documents, we’re talking about police in a personal capacity not being allowed to build relationships with the public or talk about what they feel. If this isn’t a violation of basic free speech rights than what is? I hope maybe now you can understand why I chose the image at the top of this article -