‘Bonkers’ chief constables are accused of censorship

Chief constables have been accused of censorship after telling officers to stop using their personal Twitter accounts to engage with the public. 

Officers will close their social media accounts and instead work from corporate users in North Yorkshire following concerns that crimes reported to individuals could be missed.     

But critics have claimed the move is a ‘backwards step,’ with one ex-policeman saying the decision could ‘suppress the human side of policing.’ 

North Yorkshire Police was criticised on Twitter after it announced it would close a number of personal accounts in line with recommendations from the National Police Chief’s Council. 

Policing teams will instead mange eight district accounts over the region, which includes Harrogate, Richmondshire, Scarborough, Craven and York.

The decision was criticised heavily by locals during a Q&A session held by North Yorkshire Police yesterday, with many worried policing will not seem as ‘personal.’

Chief constables have been accused of censorship after telling officers to stop using their personal Twitter accounts to engage with the public. Pictured: Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police Lisa Winward

Chief constables have been accused of censorship after telling officers to stop using their personal Twitter accounts to engage with the public. Pictured: Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police Lisa Winward

Chief constables have been accused of censorship after telling officers to stop using their personal Twitter accounts to engage with the public. Pictured: Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police Lisa Winward

Critics have claimed the move is a 'backwards step,' with one ex-policeman (above) saying the decision could 'suppress the human side of policing'

Critics have claimed the move is a 'backwards step,' with one ex-policeman (above) saying the decision could 'suppress the human side of policing'

Critics have claimed the move is a ‘backwards step,’ with one ex-policeman (above) saying the decision could ‘suppress the human side of policing’

Chief constable of Northamptonshire Police Nick Adderley described the move as ‘bonkers,’ while confirming his own officers would not be asked to close their accounts.

Mike Pannett, a former North Yorkshire police officer, told the Times: ‘I think it’s about controlling what is put out to the public. 

‘But people love the human side of policing – hearing from dog handlers, firearms experts and road policing individually.’

He added the move is the ‘biggest PR failure in recent years,’ saying that ‘years of building trust and confidence’ has now gone ‘down the pan.’   

Announcing the decision on Tuesday, North Yorkshire Police said there is a need to ensure the force is ‘in a position to identify any crimes reported on social media in the near future.’

A statement added: ‘Currently, our officers, staff and volunteers are at risk of missing such reports if they are not able to monitor their North Yorkshire Police social media accounts on a daily basis.

Chief constable of Northamptonshire Police Nick Adderley (above) described the move as 'bonkers,' while confirming his own officers would not be asked to close their accounts

Chief constable of Northamptonshire Police Nick Adderley (above) described the move as 'bonkers,' while confirming his own officers would not be asked to close their accounts

Chief constable of Northamptonshire Police Nick Adderley (above) described the move as ‘bonkers,’ while confirming his own officers would not be asked to close their accounts

The decision was criticised heavily by locals during a Q&A session held by North Yorkshire Police yesterday, with many worried policing will not seem as 'personal'

The decision was criticised heavily by locals during a Q&A session held by North Yorkshire Police yesterday, with many worried policing will not seem as 'personal'

The decision was criticised heavily by locals during a Q&A session held by North Yorkshire Police yesterday, with many worried policing will not seem as ‘personal’

‘This could also place vulnerable members of the public at risk should they reach out via a North Yorkshire Police social media accounts and their concerns not be seen for several days or weeks.’

It was added that the streamlined accounts will make it easier for residents to stay updated with what is happening in their area.

‘This will also enable us to respond to the issues that matter to our communities more quickly and effectively,’ the force said.  

The statement also claimed the approach is not unique to North Yorkshire Police, adding: ‘Other forces are already following this approach and have condensed their accounts resulting in an improvement in public satisfaction and feedback.’

Accounts run by North Yorkshire officers began announcing their closure this week, with the Police Dog Section tweeting: ‘Folks – it’s time to bid our farewell on this site.

Accounts run by North Yorkshire officers began announcing their closure this week, with the Police Dog Section tweeting: 'Folks - it's time to bid our farewell on this site'

Accounts run by North Yorkshire officers began announcing their closure this week, with the Police Dog Section tweeting: 'Folks - it's time to bid our farewell on this site'

Accounts run by North Yorkshire officers began announcing their closure this week, with the Police Dog Section tweeting: ‘Folks – it’s time to bid our farewell on this site’

‘Thanks for your support over the years and watch out for guest appearances on the local police channels.’

Others shared the announcement by North Yorkshire Police on March 30 and have not engaged with the public since.  

Following criticism on social media, Gavin Stephens, who sits on the National Police Chief’s Council, shared a blog post today detailing how the decision was made.

He said surveys from Twitter and Facebook showed people were much more interested in updates on live incidents than insights into police work. 

Mr Stephens added: ‘Official accounts will need to be able to take calls for assistance over social media, and contact centres need to be able to triage contact based on threat, harm and risk. 

‘Operationally we know this is necessary, as practitioners around the country have examples of at risk or vulnerable people making contact on social, and we now have a protocol with Facebook around notification of life at risk events into 999.’

Policing teams will instead mange eight district accounts over the region, which includes Harrogate, Richmondshire, Scarborough, Craven and York. Pictured: Accounts which may face closure

Policing teams will instead mange eight district accounts over the region, which includes Harrogate, Richmondshire, Scarborough, Craven and York. Pictured: Accounts which may face closure

Policing teams will instead mange eight district accounts over the region, which includes Harrogate, Richmondshire, Scarborough, Craven and York. Pictured: Accounts which may face closure

He insisted that police have not been ‘banned’ from using social media, adding: ‘The model supports individually named accounts being taken under the wing of the new structure to make sure it is all properly accountable and auditable using the right software. 

‘Forces that have consolidated the number of accounts have seen more engagement not less, and in my own force we now have more contributors to the accounts creating a wider range of interesting content.’  

The decision to close several individual accounts is a far cry from the attitude of five years ago, when officers were urged to ‘engage’ with the public online.

The decision to close several individual accounts is a far cry from the attitude of five years ago, when officers were urged to 'engage' with the public online

The decision to close several individual accounts is a far cry from the attitude of five years ago, when officers were urged to 'engage' with the public online

The decision to close several individual accounts is a far cry from the attitude of five years ago, when officers were urged to ‘engage’ with the public online

The previous directive resulted in some questionable ‘humourous’ content’, with those in charge sharing memes in a bid to connect with their audience.

An awards ceremony was also set up in 2016 for officers who garnered the most followers, with a huge section in the College of Policing’s guidelines given over to ‘engagement and communication’ through social media. 

The guidelines even quote Assistant Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie, who has the title of ‘lead for digital and social media engagement’. 

He stated: ‘We need to embrace this new form of communication because if we don’t engage with people via social media they will move on without us and we will miss the opportunity to influence them, making it much more difficult to re-engage with them later.’

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