Twitter gives Met Police a major headache

The Metropolitan Police faces tough times ahead. Strapped for cash and under fire for its relationship with traditional media, Twitter has become an opportunity for greater “transparency”, but also a new platform for dissent.

The Met’s guidelines on the use of social media are foggy at best. While it supports the use of online sites to “improve accessibility and engagement with Londoners”, it also warns that any “inappropriate” use could be subject to disciplinary procedures.

Last week Pc James Patrick was told to stop using Twitter to voice his concerns over police reforms and now faces an inquiry into alleged “gross misconduct”.

Simon Reed, vice chairman of the Police Federation, said resorting to Twitter was born out of frustration because of the cuts to salaries and manpower across the country.

“I don’t think officers are using Twitter for whistle-blowing, but what they are using it for is making comment about police reform and the lack of resources,” he said.

“It’s just the sheer frustration, and forces are now using the police misconduct code to censor when that element of free speech should sometimes be allowed.”

Camden has its own company of police officers who Tweet in a personal capacity about the comings and goings of life in the borough.

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@TheRozzer, a veteran officer, posts to his 55 followers about everything from his daughter’s choice of reading material to the “folly” of the Filkin report into police relations with the press.

@WHlocalplod is a “local police officer” who posts about police action in West Hampstead, taking care not to overstep the mark.

One relative newcomer to Twitter was former Camden borough commander John Sutherland, whose account @policecommander falls somewhere between the anonymous officers and the corporate Met Police accounts.

The 42-year-old claims top brass are happy with his social media presence, but admitted he had to tread a fine line between the mundane and controversial topics.

“You need to be careful about the tweet first, ask questions later approach,” said Ch Supt Sutherland, now in charge of Southwark, who also writes a blog about policing.

“Never tweet in anger or if you’ve had something to drink – those are my two rules. It’s a question of being sensible and not falling off the horse on the other side and being too boring.

“No one is interested in what I had for breakfast or what I think of the new Bond film, but policing is a subject which is engaging and if you can find a way of getting people interested then that can only be a good thing.”

Media and communications manager Michelle Mercer, who manages @MPSHaringey, said: “The most rewarding comments (from followers) are the ones that tell us that we have humanised the police and thank us for our response to incidents. It’s fantastic to have such positive feedback.”