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Police officers fired and disciplined over Facebook posts

Some 150 police officers have been disciplined, at least two have been fired and seven forced to quit over posting photos or comments on Facebook.

Over the past four years officers used Facebook to harass former partners and ex-colleagues, to comment on others' wives, and to suggest they had beaten up members of the public during protests.

Some even revealed details of police operations, tried to befriend victims of crime, or were caught in inappropriate photographs.

The details, released to the Press Association following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, come as a review into police corruption found there was a "significant blurring" between officers' personal and professional lives on social networking sites which risked damaging the service's reputation.

One officer with the Hampshire force was dismissed without notice in 2009 for posting a racist comment on Facebook, the force said. No other details were released.

The figures, from 41 of the 43 forces in England and Wales, cover between 2008 and 2010, but a second officer was sacked earlier this year for referring to another officer as a "grass" and a "liar" on Facebook and harassing a female colleague.

Seven other officers - two special constables from the Dorset force and one officer from each of Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Essex, North Wales, and South Yorkshire - resigned following complaints, the figures showed.

The South Yorkshire officer resigned following an allegation of improper disclosure of information on Facebook, while others posted inappropriate comments or pictures.

Another officer, Pc Nestor Costa, of Devon and Cornwall Police, was fined three days pay in 2008 after he called for violence against suspects in custody.

Under a video of a youth with a knife being tackled by officers in a police station, he wrote: "Look at this stupid c***, hope he gets a good f****** shoeing in the cells."

In all, a total of 187 complaints were made against officers over their use of Facebook, with nine officers being given final written warnings, 47 given written warnings and one given a formal warning.

A further 88 were subject to management action, received guidance or words of advice, while 32 complaints were either withdrawn, found to be unsubstantiated or led to no further action.

One disciplinary outcome in Leicestershire, following comments made on Facebook, was withheld by the force.

Roger Baker, who led a review into police corruption for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), said: "Social networking is seen as a risk by all forces and authorities, but there are limited or inconsistent policies around what is acceptable, what you should do, what you shouldn't do.

"We found a significant blurring between people's professional lives on social networking sites and their private lives which may be in the public domain and private lives which probably should remain extremely private."

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said that while the service recognised the widespread benefits of social networking sites, it "also understands the risks relating to compromise, operational effectiveness and reputational damage".

Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, Acpo's lead for professional standards, said: "Whilst officers and staff have a right to privacy and to share opinions and experiences with friends and associates, they should also be aware of the risk they are subject to when they identify themselves as being a member of the service.

"For this reason, forces are revising their existing procedures on information security to include specific reference to the responsible use of social networking sites and are providing clear guidance on acceptable content.

"They are also taking active steps to highlight risks and include awareness training in induction programmes and in wider police officer training."

He went on: "Professional standards departments ensure that officers and staff placing inappropriate comments or pictures are held to account and, depending on the degree of severity, are removed from the service or subject to more educationally-based action to modify awareness and prevent further inappropriate behaviour."

The HMIC review, Without Fear Or Favour: A Review Of Police Relationships, said: "Any lack of clarity felt by staff is not helped by the example set by some senior officers who include what might be considered questionable force-related content or personal opinion in their own messaging."

A study of eight forces found that 3.4% (1,849) of officers and staff using Facebook identified themselves as police employees, of which 2% (43) had posted inappropriate pictures or comments.

One in six officers with a public profile displayed police-related content in their profile picture, such as photos of them in uniform, the study found.

But in one force, which was not identified by HMIC, more than one in eight of its officers with a public profile had posted inappropriate comments or photographs.

These included displays of nudity or partial nudity, offensive and abusive language, and excessive alcohol consumption, the review found.

The inspectors called for ways to monitor officers' use of social media to be explored and consideration should be given to "ensuring that all police officers and staff understand the boundaries within which to operate on social networking sites - clearly explaining how they relate to professional and personal use".

Belfast Telegraph