Police should stop “wasting time” investigating tweets just because someone claims to be offended, a senior police chief has said. The Telegraph has more.
Stephen Watson, chief constable of Greater Manchester, admitted police had been overzealous in recording trivial online spats and legitimate debate as hate incidents at the expense of tackling mainstream crimes.
“I do think that the balance has got somewhere out of kilter,” said Mr Watson, who last week revealed how his “back to basics” approach to crime-fighting had turned his failing force into the most improved in Britain.
“We’ve become too assiduous at interpreting some of the rules to mean that if anybody at any time for whatever reason is offended, there somehow needs to be a police record.
“We’ve got ourselves involved in stuff which is just not a policing matter, we’ve wasted our time as a result and we’ve caused people to question whether, frankly, we know what we’re doing.”
He added: “In certain circumstances, there are actually first-class examples of where we’ve just completely got this wrong.”
One case involved a Bedfordshire man who ended up with a police file for whistling the theme tune to Bob the Builder at his neighbour, who perceived racial hatred.
Earlier this year Harry Miller, a retired policeman who was visited by his local force after tweeting about transgender rights, won a battle over free speech with the College of Policing. The Court of Appeal ruled the guidance breached Mr Miller’s human rights.
Mr. Watson welcomed revised guidance by the College of Policing, the national standards body, as a “move in the right direction”. It has decreed that police officers should no longer investigate legitimate debate or treat trivial online spats as hate incidents.
The guidance, hailed as a victory for free speech, said people contributing to political and social debate must not be “stigmatised simply because someone is offended”.
Mr Watson warned that without changes, police credibility would be undermined. He said: “As with all things in life, there’s a careful calibration required, because I do understand why people will say: ‘Well, if it’s not a crime, then why are you bothering recording it, because surely that’s nothing to do with police?’”
He said he hoped officers could be empowered to apply their own common sense. “It is, I think, the function of leadership to give our people the confidence that it is still okay, from time to time to say to people: it’s just not a police matter, that is nonsense,” he said.
“That’s called being a grown-up in a democracy where we sometimes have vigorous discourse, and you just need to get with the programme or stop using social media. We need to encourage our people to have the confidence to do that.”
Worth reading in full.