A police force in the UK has a new policy banning officers from using their personal social media accounts. Critics claim the move undermines “the human side of policing” at a time where the relationship between the police and the public is severely strained.
The North Yorkshire Police has a new policy making it illegal for police officers to use their personal social media accounts to communicate with members of the public. The decision was made following a recommendation by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC).
However, only the North Yorkshire police has followed the recommendation; other forces countrywide will continue allowing officers to use their personal social media accounts.
A spokesperson for the North Yorkshire Police said all communication through social media will be done through the official accounts of the force. To maintain personal relationships, officers will be encouraged to add their names on social media messages.
But some feel the move does more harm than good.
“Anonymous accounts are not the way forward,” said former police officer Mike Pannett, speaking to Yorkshire Live.
“Policing is on its knees at the moment. Hundreds of police stations have closed and we’ve seen everything thrown at police recently, so these accounts are actually more important than ever.
“People don’t want corporate only policing. Individuals have taken years to build up these accounts and build trust. For someone to pull the plug on them is absolute madness,” Pannett added.
Some officers in the force have been on social media for years and build relationships with members of the public and police in other forces. For example, Roads Policing Sgt. Paul Cording has over 14k followers on Twitter. He says he understands the reasoning behind the policy but is disappointed he will no longer be allowed to use his account.
“Am I disappointed? Yes, because I’ve been on Twitter probably eight or nine years and I’ve learned an awful lot from other people in other forces.
“I’ve made lots of friends and interacted with lots of other people.
“At some time in the future, we will be asked to close our accounts,” Sgt. Cording said.
Officers with relatively huge followings on social media help members of the public see the human side of policing.
“Individual accounts show the human side of policing, which the corporate accounts simply don’t have,” former police officer Pannett continued.
“I know how important corporate police communications can be. For example, if a terrorist attack happens, everyone goes to corporate accounts for factual information which is vital.
“But Premier League clubs don’t tell the players to not tweet, even though the club accounts have millions of followers.
“This is so crucial for the morale of police officers who are now being cut off from interactions they have had for years with people in their communities. Police officers are gutted and absolutely demoralized.”
“We understand the value of social media and the interactions with the public and our communities,” Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) Phil Cain told YorkMix Radio.
“But we also understand the potential requirement to start to look at any organizational account that they [the officers] have… being monitored and tracked.
“So if you can imagine a member of the public making an appeal for help on one of our social media accounts. If that officer is on two weeks’ leave, that member of the public is then let down by the service.
“We need to make sure we are able to respond.
“The staff are still encouraged to be themselves. They are still encouraged to use their collar numbers [and] do it in a way that we can support the staff so they can enjoy their time off away from work. Sometimes you need to take a break from social media.”
The force will continually review the new policy.