Officers could face criminal action for sharing offensive material – watchdog

Luke Powell, PA
·2-min read

Police officers have been warned they may be investigated for misconduct for sharing or posting offensive material on social media.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said a snapshot of investigations between 2018 and 2020 showed several examples of such behaviour from serving officers.

Michael Lockwood, director general of the police watchdog, has now warned officers they may face criminal proceedings if they “do not uphold the standards of professional behaviour”.

It comes after several Metropolitan Police officers received final written warnings for gross misconduct in December last year after sharing text messages containing jokes about rape, paedophilia, racism, and homophobia.

A Kent Police officer was also sacked in August 2020 after he described searching women as “good fun”, mocked a dementia sufferer and posted crime scene photos on WhatsApp over an eight-month period, the IOPC said.

Mr Lockwood has written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, asking it to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police code of ethics and standards of professional behaviour.

He said: “From racist, sexist, and other discriminatory comments to photographing crime scenes and using social media to contact victims of crime for sexual activity, it is concerning that a small number of police officers appear to think that this is acceptable behaviour.

“In the most serious examples we have seen grossly offensive images and messages which the public would be appalled by.

“Making discriminatory remarks, and the sharing of graphic and offensive memes and images, is unacceptable under any circumstances.

“Officers can face serious disciplinary or even criminal consequences if they do not uphold the standards of professional behaviour.”

Mr Lockwood said the “vast majority” of officers were “appalled by this kind of activity”.

He added: “I am encouraged that these matters have often come to light because police officers called out their colleagues and reported their concerns as they are duty bound to do.

“A whole police force can be judged by the community on one officer’s inappropriate posting which significantly damages public confidence and brings the police into disrepute.”