The Secret Life Of Police Bloggers

For the radio piece that this is based on, you can listen to it here until Saturday.  (Clip generated by the very clever Adrian McEwen with his genius Real Audio Clip Generator).

The BBC website has a story about it here as well. (Thanks Batsgirl).

World Weary Detective recently stopped blogging in response to a memo from the Metropolitan Police Force (‘The Met’).  He reports,

This statement is followed by 'guidance' on writing blogs. In summary, this states that although 'blogging' cannot be stopped, the 'impact of expressing views and opinions that are damaging to the organisation or bring the organisation into disrepute' must be considered. Disciplinary proceedings may be considered against posters of material that may be (among other things) defamatory, offensive or otherwise inappropriate.

You can read the whole memo here.

So far, according to Technorati, there are 71 posts linking to this story.  Due to work (and other) commitments I’ve not been able to comment until now.

My initial thought on the majority of the memo is that it is fine advice.  Police bloggers are reminded that they should not ‘defame’ people (which is illegal anyway), and that they should not bring the police into ‘disrepute’.  Bringing the service into disrepute would be a disciplinary offence in pretty much any employment.  You can ‘whistleblow’, but you can’t bring into disrepute.

Then we move on to ‘offensive’.  One man’s ‘offense’ is another man’s ‘joke’.  It’s a bit tricky to determine what is offensive and to whom, in fact the government can’t get a law through that outlaws religious offense.

Finally, and for me the crucial point, is the part that says ‘or otherwise inappropriate’.

What is that supposed to mean?  Is it ‘inappropriate’ to speak out about the flaws in the proposed ID card?  Would it be ‘inappropriate’ to write a satire?  Would it be ‘inappropriate’ to write the truth about ‘binge drinking’?  Actually – would it be considered ‘inappropriate’ to write about the memo that has started this whole trouble?

While I might admire the Met for considering a blogging policy, they have unfortunately made a complete balls-up of it.  They have, instead of clarifying points, only made the police bloggers unsure of what they can write about.  With this lack of firm guidance many have decided that blogging in the police is simply too dangerous for your career.  Police bloggers have all shown amazing common-sense in the things that they blog about.  They have not mentioned anything that could breach confidentiality, nor have they compromised any on-going investigations.  There has been no defamation, racism, sexism or other subject that could bring the police into disrepute. 

What police bloggers have done is to show us that they are individual human beings.  They have proven that behind the uniform is someone who thinks about what their management tells them, that they too have their own ideas on politics, crime, religion and class and that the police come from a whole spectrum of people.  You have right-wing police bloggers, and bloggers who probably have a subscription to ‘Socialist Worker’.  They have all behaved with the professionalism that would be expected of them.  And yet the Met do not trust their workers.

Blogging is the great humanizer.

The Met are scared that the voice of one person will bring down their anti-crime policies.  I think that Stan Hill sums it up best when he says,

It is sad that the senior officers at the Met don't seem to have confidence in their decision making and policy making abilities. Were they sure of their ground, then the “challenge” posed by some blog articles would be easily dispelled.

Finally, and perhaps more frighteningly – the Met management have given us a glimpse into what it must be like to work for them.  That you would be scared that ‘otherwise inappropriate’ could be used to discipline you.  That you are expected to toe the company line in all ways and that you dare not show any signs of individuality.

In purely Public Relations terms, what the police bloggers have built – the Met has demolished in one easy step.

(I would have liked to have spent more time on this – I’d liked to have done more than one draft, but the radio slot is time limited.  My apologies if this seems a little poor, but I have been working twelve hour shifts).

13 thoughts on “The Secret Life Of Police Bloggers”

  1. You'll need Real Player to listen to the audio clip. The BBC has a help page which has a link to the free download (and answers some of the frequently asked questions about getting it working).

  2. Wow, gotta love the bri' 'ish accent :-)I always think of bloggers as having kiwi accents… Illogical I know.

  3. Hi TomI listened to the broadcast yesterday. Glad I didn't go on, I wouldn't want my voice to go all squeaky like my colleague's?

    Glad you agreed with my point of view – I'm not too offended that you got my name wrong. šŸ™‚

  4. Got it in one there Tom. I too am frankly depressed that the Met have decided to effectively silence their bloggers. The worrying thing is that if other employers see this as a good thing we could find other large employers (notably in the emergency services) will do the same thing.Good luck and keep at it folks. I appreciate finding out what happens behind the scenes – I think it makes realise what I can do to help!

    BTW – I thought it read pretty well … despite what you might have thought!

  5. 'Inappropriate' NVQ speak for you f%$&ed up matey.I wish people would say what they mean. You can never defend against 'inappropriate' behaviour.

    Should you ever accidentally kill a patient tell your officer 'I agree, it was inappropriate, but..' It wasn't wrong – just 'inappropriate'.

    When all is said and done I blame the media – they feed like vultures on any police error. No wonder senior officers have doubts on any decision.

  6. Lack of trust and feelings of insecurity reach right to the top it seems with the Commissioner feeling the need to record his 'phone conversations…even with the Attorney General. Integrity has left the building….Trust has surrendered.

  7. “Inappropriate” is the most over-used and meaningless word in psychiatric patients' notes. It usually means the patient has pissed off the staff e.g. is shouting too loud in distress, thereby preventing the night staff from hearing the telly. As with Alice In Wonderland…a word means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. Hence patient can't win. Likewise, bloggers can't win as the rules are opaque and shifting.

  8. Yeah, when I get some free time (which might be some time off) I'm hoping to get something knocked up to help with that bit too, but figured that as it is it's a step in the right direction šŸ™‚

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