I opened the bananaman999 twitter account so I could take part in discussions about politics and policing that I otherwise couldn’t do under my own name. What sort of freedom is that ?
This morning I saw this article by Martin Beckford of the Mail on Sunday here about ACPO issuing guidance for police officers, which among other things tells them not to ‘tweet drunk’
It’s very fashionable to bash the rozzers in the media at the minute, but this article strikes a chord with me. Why do police officers need SM guidance in the first place ?
It’s because they simply do not have the freedom of expression that is available as a basic right to every other member of British society. That is simply unacceptable in a modern democratic society.
Let me tell you about myself – but not much. I am a serving police officer with no affiliation to any political party. I am probably more left than right, which is mostly down to remembering all that hurt in the 1980’s, but, paradoxically I am fairly right wing when it comes to criminals. That comes from seeing some really evil people and I believe that the world would be a better place if some of them weren’t in it.
How much did you learn about me from that paragraph? I could be describing two-thirds of the population. I also have a twitter and facebook account in my own name. Thanks to my lack of freedom of expression I cannot state what I do, or who I work for, unlike my friends. I also am forbidden from listing my hobbies. I might just be an airfix model builder and never go out (I’m not) but I can’t tell you that.
If you check my tweets on the ‘nana page you wont find anything insulting, abusive, or politically extreme. I dont swear and I am courteous to others. The same is true of my ‘real’ account. Only I can’t take part in a lot of debates under my own name. I would agree with John Cooper QC when he says the police are ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’
It was only in December 2012 that Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions issued their guidance on SM charging (link here). I will post what I think is the most important paragraph below ;
‘…a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest if the communication is swiftly removed, blocked, not intended for a wide audience or not obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression.
“The interim guidelines thus protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subjected to it.”
For those of you who do not have a police background, I am barred from having a pint with people I went to school with and have known all my life. I cannot frequent most gyms in case I become ‘corrupted’ by an ‘inappropriate association’ In essence I gave up my democratic rights when I joined the police. My decision you say, and you would be right. but there’s a caveat to that.
Over the last few years there has been a clamour for the police to reform, be more transparent, and to adopt modern working practices, yet that is completely at odds with the witholding of officers freedom of expression and opinion.
So why have I posted the CPS guidance for prosecution in SM cases ? one of the most unpopular jobs in front line policing are the regular calls from a section of society who love to insult and threaten each other online and who then call the police. All sensible advice falls on deaf ears – most of us would delete the comments, rebuff them, block them, unfriend them etc. Thats our choice. The CPS guidance shows that unless it’s a targeted campaign it’s not likely to result in an offence (I don’t agree with what you say but you have a right to say it, someone said..)
I am one of ‘most persons’. I can be trusted to make sensible decisions. I can make my own friends, I wont abuse them if they disagree. I wont go into the armed robbery business with them either. I just want to go to a gym to get fit, maybe use a few machines. I wont take steroids or work on pub doors. I might call into my local for a pint and speak to someone with a criminal record. I wont look them up on a force computer. If you haven’t already guessed it I am an adult.
How very dare they advise me not to get drunk and tweet. but if I do its my responsibility if I get it wrong.
I will end on this point. If I was permitted to use my own private account, in my own name and allowed to publish who I work for etc (I am proud of it you know) I am grown up enough to ignore or block anyone I choose should the need arise. I am also grown up enough not to bite the hand that feeds me.