Belfast Telegraph

Six police officers disciplined over social media comments

Six Northern Ireland police officers have been disciplined for making "unprofessional" and "inappropriate" comments on social media in the last three years.

One officer was found to have posted homophobic comments about a colleague on Facebook, while another shared details of a threat briefing.

Sanctions imposed by the PSNI's Discipline Branch ranged from advice and guidance to a reduction in pay.

The PSNI said that social media is a valuable tool for the organisation in terms of community engagement, but added that an officer's access to social media can be suspended or revoked if they "bring the service into disrepute."

Details obtained by the Press Association under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2016 four officers were disciplined in relation to their use of social media.

"Management action" was taken against one of the officers for "unprofessional and homophobic comments about a colleague on Facebook."

Advice and guidance was offered to another officer following an anonymous complaint about an "offensive Facebook post."

One officer had their pay reduced for an "inappropriate post on social media". A fourth officer was disciplined through a "management discussion" for "inappropriate social media posts".

In 2015 one officer was reprimanded with a "management discussion" for an "inappropriate post" on a district PSNI Facebook page.

Another officer received advice and guidance in 2014 after posting a threat briefing on Facebook.

The revelations come just weeks after the PSNI issued an apology over a post made by an officer on Facebook about the rescue of a vulnerable man with mental health issues.

Using the PSNI Bangor Facebook account the officer described the rescue of the man - who was found naked in a ditch - as an "unusual call that gave us a chuckle" adding the hashtags "#fullmoon #hideandstreak #keepingpeopledecent".

The man's mother described the post as "cyber-bullying" of her son. The PSNI referred the incident to the Police Ombudsman and issued an apology.

And last year Chief Constable George Hamilton apologised to his officers after posting a Saturday night tweet that appeared to dismiss the pressure under which they work.

Mr Hamilton told a fellow PSNI officer and Twitter user: "Dry your eyes, do the job or move on."

The Twitter user had challenged the chief constable's call for people to consider a career in policing, tweeting a picture of a historical recruitment advertisement and pointing out that it was now a more complex job than originally envisaged.

Mr Hamilton later posted a video on Twitter to apologise for causing offence and said he was "hugely proud" of his officers.

Liz Young, head of the PSNI's Corporate Communications Department, said that social media is a valuable tool for the PSNI.

"It enables us to engage directly with the community we serve; to provide information about policing and crime, to address public concerns, to increase confidence in policing and to develop a two way conversation between police and communities," she said.

Ms Young added that all social media users receive social media awareness training which provides an oversight of PSNI social media, outlines the aim of using social media and provides guidance around the content and tone of social media content.

"Guidelines clearly state that a user's access to social media can be suspended or revoked if they are found to represent an organisational risk or bring the service into disrepute.

"Sanctions are dependent on the nature and seriousness of any breach of the guidelines," she said.

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