In the wake of PC Nick Manning and his tweeting being under the microscope I thought I would write a blog. Although I’m not going to comment on that particular case because it’s an ongoing investigation I hope by the end of this you’ll see my position on the whole matter. After this news story I began to see tweets and blogs discussing anonymous bloggers so I thought that being one of them it’s only fair that I add my views and reasons on the matter. As far I can tell, there appears to be two matters here, police officers using twitter/social media(SM), and secondly those that do it anonymously. So where to start? It’s probably best to start by saying why I tweet, then move on to the issue of anonymity.
I wanted to use Twitter to help the public understand the police service, so that they may view us in a better light and understand some of our thought processes and our procedures so they can see what we actually do in day-to-day policing, it’s a side that’s often not seen and rarely shown on any of the police program’s on TV. I hoped by tweeting and blogging that I would be able to engage with public, not just in an attempt to help the police/public relationship, but more importantly on a personal level I wanted to improve my understanding of how the public view the police and how I could improve as a police officer to make things better for members of the public. I think that there is a high probability that I could learn something from others and become a better officer.
The problem is, I often feel like police officers aren’t allowed to have opinion for fear of receiving disciplinary action, as I spoke about in one of my earlier blogs, people often forget that we are also human beings, we have opinions, feelings and when we take the uniform off we are just the same as anyone else, let’s not forget one of the founding principles of the police from Sir Robert Peel – ‘The police are the public and the public are the police.’ I think that the public have a right to know, and with everyone talking about accountability and transparency I honestly believe that I’m helping the public to understand some of the challenges that we face every day. I’m by no means ‘taking the law into my own hands’, but just trying to help do my bit. Just as if as I would talk to a member of the public on the street to help our image, I will happily have a conversation about policing on Twitter (within reason) for the same gain.
Following on from this is something that is regularly discussed in the media…Human Rights. Human rights are regularly cited in court and the media but what about Article 10? This is the right to freedom of expression, so I wonder does this apply to police officers?
A lot of what I say is my own personal opinion, but i think just as its important for officers to see it from someone else’s point of view, sometimes it’s just as important for someone to see from a police officers point of view.
Moving on to anonymity. Well, there a few different reasons why I choose to tweet and blog behind the facade of @laptop_cop, one of these reasons (in no particular order), is the safety of my family. We deal with some horrible, unscrupulous people, and occasionally they make threats towards us. (Only yesterday a colleague of mine got told by someone he’d arrested that they were going to find his daughter and wife so he could rape them). Now I know that most of the time they are just comments said in the heat of the moment through anger/frustration and nothing will ever happen, but all it takes is one of these people to actually carry out a threat and I don’t think that’s worth the risk.
In the 21st century, with all the technology available and the Internet, it’s not hard to track people down. I know the job advises us against using social media, but other people in my family might still use it, and I can hardly get them to stop.
I regularly help to police events and protests in central London and it’s becoming common place that we are filmed by members of the public (usually so called ‘legal advisers’), I.e. they walk along the cordons, taking officers names and filming them so that I assume in the event something happens later on in the day they can say what officers were where and who might have been involved. Whilst I can understand this, and it may even be a good thing in some situations
, if that information is published on the Internet it is then available to anyone, forever (which could also have consequences if you want a future career in covert policing). All it takes is one person to publish your name, or a photo and it’s out there in the ether forever. Maybe I’m being over the top but is it worth risking?
Rightly or wrongly I always assumed that the police were given shoulder/collar numbers to not only identify us within the job, but also so that we didn’t give our names out to members of the public, you shoulder number was your identification. Only now for some reason we all have to wear name badges, possibly so it makes us more accountable? I don’t know the real reason, but in my opinion we shouldn’t have to wear name badges, after all if someone wishes to make a complaint they can give my shoulder number to the inspector, it’s still me. I just don’t think anything can be gained from officers wearing their names. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this?
I know people reading this will say that this is extreme that someone would genuinely threaten a police officers family, but unfortunately in our job we often deal with worst case scenarios, and a saying that I live by is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best”, this way I can’t be caught out.
It’s fair to say I spend quite a lot of my life living in fear of being summoned to the Superintendent’s office, or getting a knock at my door because the DPS (the professional standards office) have investigated Laptop_cop and found out who I am. However, in relation to the content of my tweets, I never tweet about anything operational and never tweet anything that could compromise active cases or operations. In fact, I rarely tweet about actual stuff that happens at work it’s mostly my opinions. As far as I can recall, I never tweeted anything that I wouldn’t say to a member of the public in the street. This is something that appears to be very blurred at the moment, if I bump into someone whilst out on foot patrol and talk to them about policing cuts or a general chat about the police I’m seen to be engaging with the community, yet if I tweet the very same things I worry that I could face disciplinary action. Is there a difference? I’m not sure there is, yes there is a much wider audience on Twitter and I may have journalists that follow me (I can’t control who follows me or not), but it’s still the same information. I know there is obviously a line, it’s not like I would call my local paper and give them a juicy storey about the police but how are blogs regarded? I could be wrong and if someone could tell me the distinction I’d be grateful.
Anonymity, in my opinion is key for openness in such serious and thought provoking matters. Someone, especially a police officer is much more likely to be open and give an honest view if they can do so without fear of reprisals (I mean from the professional standards people). Much like when business meetings are held under ‘The Chatham House Rule’ (Chatham House website )to encourage free speaking and openness, I think the same could be said for blogging/tweeting.
I’ve looked through our guidelines for officers wishing to use social media in their own time, and as far as I’m aware I stick to them. Although I’ve told people who I work for, no one actually knows who I am. So from what I can tell, the only thing which seems to be a catch-all is the point which talks about bringing the MPS into disrepute or compromising its effectiveness.
I’ve looked up ‘disrepute’ in the dictionary and it’s defined as ‘The state of being held in low esteem by the public’. Something I wanted to achieve when I set up this blog was to highlight to the public some of the processes and things that the police have to deal with which they otherwise wouldn’t ever know about. By doing this I don’t believe that the public will hold the MPS in low esteem, if anything I believe it would be quite the opposite, it can only help to gain greater support for the police in the face of the cuts by highlighting to the public the daily challenges that we face.
In summary, I think that as long as officers aren’t tweeting about live operations or jobs (unless its something the public could help with, e.g. Missing person, recently stolen car) then is there really a problem? Do the public have a right to know what it’s actually like, from the officers themselves, not what the media want to the public to know?
I do think there needs to be better guidelines on blogging/tweeting and the possible consequences of it however I understand it’s still a very new concept, something that professional standards need to do though is to educate the officers! God knows we love a powerpoint presentation, or NCALT package (computer based learning) in the police, so why not include social media into our mandatory training. Rather than trying to prevent officers from using social media, why not help them to do it in a way that can benefit the service and the public.
I’d love to hear your views, for or against so please comment….