Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Stephen Watson said the police have been prioritizing the recording of trivial spats online at the expense of handling real crime.
“I do think that the balance has got somewhere out of kilter,” Watson said, after an arrest over a tweet shocked the nation.
“We’ve become too assiduous at interpreting some of the rules to mean that if anybody at any time for whatever reason is offended, there somehow needs to be a police record.
“We’ve got ourselves involved in stuff which is just not a policing matter, we’ve wasted our time as a result and we’ve caused people to question whether, frankly, we know what we’re doing.”
He added: “In certain circumstances, there are actually first-class examples of where we’ve just completely got this wrong.”
Former police officer Harry Miller successfully sued the Bedfordshire Police Force after he got a visit from them about “anti-trans” remarks he had made on Twitter. The Court of Appeal ruled that the College of Policing guidance on the recording of non-crime hate incidents violated his free speech rights.
The College of Policing’s guidance has since been changed, something that Watson welcomed as a “move in the right direction.”
The guidance now says police should not interfere with legal debate and trivial spats on social media “simply because someone is offended.”
According to Watson, recording these trivial online spats harms police credibility.
“As with all things in life, there’s a careful calibration required, because I do understand why people will say: ‘Well, if it’s not a crime, then why are you bothering recording it, because surely that’s nothing to do with police?’”