Trial By Social Media Or RIP Without Fear Or Favour? You Decide

It can’t have escaped your notice that, over the past few months or longer, a practice has really taken off of filming the Police going about their lawful duties, and then circulating a heavily edited version of the footage on Social Media accompanied by some seriously biased comments.

In the past few months alone we have seen footage which purports to show people who have been stopped ‘for no apparent reason’ and therefore there must have been an element of Racial Profiling going on. What twaddle, in both instances the vehicles had tinted windows making it difficult to establish who was in the car. One car was seemingly being driven by a white male, despite the passenger claiming he was black. This video was seemingly altered in a highly unsatisfactory manner, ‘flipping ‘ the video making it look as though the black female was the driver, and, presumably the subject of the stop, when in fact it was the white male who was driving. I have no idea how this happened, who was responsible, or whether it was a genuine but unfortunate mistake, but it puts the whole, edited, incident in a completely different light.

I have no particular issue with Police Officers being filmed, apart from the fact that it invades their privacy, something that the ‘filmers’ are frequently very hot about. Sharing that footage on Social Media could also constitute a security risk for the officers. Can you imagine the outrage if officers went round filming members of the public and then posting that video on Social Media for a laugh, with a sarcastic comment attached?

Officers are expected to carry out their duties to certain standards, and I for one expect that of them. That is not my reason for opposing them being filmed in the streets. If you want to film them behaving in a way you find less than acceptable, do so by all means, but then hand the full, unedited, version of the video over to Professional Standards or IOPC to deal with. They will be able to tell if it has been edited or not.

My point in all this is this. If this practice continues, edited footage being gleefully broadcast by National News Media and widely shared on Social Media, then I predict grave consequences. There are those amongst us who seek to curtail the lawful activities of our Police Service. Only yesterday I heard of a certain Labour MP in consultation with Dame Dick about the manner in which Stop and Search is used.

Stop and Search is regulated by Statute nationally and is not up for modification by an MP who doesn’t like it. s1 PACE clearly requires sufficient ‘grounds’ and individual officers need to be able to demonstrate and justify grounds. s60 PACE is valid only within clearly defined times and geographic areas, and for a specific reason, authorised by a senior Police Officer for a Policing purpose. Other Acts, such as the Road Traffic Act, allow persons to be stopped without searching them, for defined reasons e.g. to ensure that a car driver has a valid Driving Licence etc.

A large section of the public supported the call for Police Officers to be kitted out with Body Worn Video. This is now quite commonplace. Most, if not all, are equipped with audio. Again, I have no issue with this. It is on a par with Tape Recorded Interviews or CCTV in Custody Areas etc. It is a fact of modern life and if the officers do nothing wrong then that facility will actually support them, or be evidence against them if they transgress.

However, now that we have BWV, when instances arise like recently when seemingly edited video footage is broadcast on the National News to suit one person’s agenda, if BWV footage exists that can either corroborate or rebut that agenda then it should also be released and given equivalent prominence on the National News, but all know that’s never going to happen.

If this continues the way the vociferous minority want it to then our Police, nationally, will be totally emasculated.  Reluctant, in many cases, to do their duty for fear of being posted all over the internet on pursuit of ‘Likes’ or other malicious agenda.

Policing Without Fear or Favour means this.  It means yes, you will breathalyse John from the Cricket Club even though you are also a member there and know him well, because that is the right thing to do.  It does not mean “I’m not going to Stop/Search that person there because they are a Public Figure and I don’t want to be a meme, or ‘go viral'”‘  It means ‘Doing the right thing, in the right manner’ no matter who the subject is.

We have seen SOME senior officers come out and defend their officers, when it has been appropriate to do so.  We have seen SOME senior officers publicly criticise their officers, or apologise,  prior to the conclusion of any enquiry.  On one memorable ocasion the officers’ actions had been scrutised twice and held to have been lawful and appropriate and there had been no Misconduct, yet Dame Dick still felt it appropriate to apologise.  She apparently apopologised for the ‘distress’ caused.  Well, if the officers actions had been lawful and appropriate and there was no Misconduct, and there were no allegations of incivility etc, there should have been no distress to apologise for.  I’m sure many of us have been at the wrong end of an interaction with a Police Officer even though we have done no wrong, I certainly have.  I definitely did not receive or expect an apology for it though.

I have heard anecdotal evidence, on Social Media ironically, that a number of officers are actually considering leaving the profession due solely to Trial by Social Media and a perceived lack of support from above.  There you have it, the death knell of Policing Without Fear or Favour.

I’m not sure how much good it will do with the current government but many of us have written to our MP pointing out what is happening.  If the public don’t like what is happening then they have the right to reply (politely) via Social Media or direct to the person concerned.  Either way the the future is very much in the Court of Public Opinion.  The odd video may seem amusing in the short term, but the long damage they do, undermining our over-stretched officers is immense.  Yes, they will inevitablymake mistakes, but if it is a genuine mistake, addressed as such, and hopefully rectified, that should really be the end of the matter, not 40 seconds of infamy on YouTube.

An Open Letter To @KernowKop

Yet again I find myself indebted to @NathanConstable, if you haven’t yet read his post on PC Alice Nicholas you can find it here.

I must declare that I have no insight on why you (Alice) seem to have left the SM field, and it is absolutely your right to do so if you feel that it is the correct or appropriate thing to do.  Many of us, however, have formed the opinion that you may have been pressured into this course of action by D&C Professional Standards.  I sincerely hope that we are wrong.  I am aware that some Twitterers in your part of the world have previously had problems regarding their use of SM, Newquay Sarge and PS Gary Watts amongst them, so I conducted some very unscientific research into the problem, the results of which can be found here, but basically appeared to show that there was not a problem in reality.

I’m old enough that when I joined The Job Social Media hadn’t even been dreamt of, but we were told when we joined not to breach the Official Secrets Act, not to talk to The Press, and not to breach ‘Confidentiality’.  That never really included “Thou shalt not criticise government or Police policies”.  Surprisingly, I got into trouble a few times for criticising senior officers and/or their policies but it never amounted to more than being invited into a bullying Chief Inspector’s office and treated to the mother of all bollockings.  It was never career-threatening, nor did it ever appear on my official discipline record.

So what I want to know is this, when did it become unacceptable to tell people the truth?

I have seen nothing in your tweets Alice that struck me as being untrue or unreasonable.  With the swingeing cuts inflicted on Policing by Theresa May and the likes it comes as no surprise that front line officers will have an opinion on that.  Why shouldn’t they, it affects them? Why should you and your peers not be allowed to voice those opinions without fear of retribution.  It is not Bringing The Force Into Disrepute it is highlighting the true effects of government policy.  Theresa May introduced Party Politics into Policing, it should come as no surprise that Police zofficers have something to say about that.

I have noted a couple of other tweets on your official account that Nathan did highlight, and they may have also had a part to play, but completely understandable;

I have also noted that these three Tweets appear (to me at least) to be the sole remaining Tweets, presumably you, or somebody else, has deleted the rest.

In closing, I, and many others, am sad to see you go.  The Job hierarchy really has to get its corporate head around the fact that cops have opinions and should not be bullied into supressing them.  Lies and Inuendo are one thing but nobody should have to fear speaking the TRUTH.

Alice, you will be missed. Twitter will be a poorer place for your absence.