Association of Police and Crime Commissioners chair calls for cultural change following high-profile misconduct cases
A crime chief has warned police officers against sharing inappropriate WhatsApp messages as five face a probe into a chat group involving murderer Wayne Couzens.
Marc Jones, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), acknowledged some in the profession may use “dark humour” to deal with difficult circumstances – but said high standards needed to be shown at every rank.
His comments come as five serving officers across three forces continue to be investigated for gross misconduct over a WhatsApp group Sarah Everard’s killer is believed to have been part of which contained misogynistic and “discriminatory” messages.
Two others were earlier this year charged with misconduct in public office after pictures were taken at the scene of the murders of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in Wembley and later shared on WhatsApp.
In a briefing with journalists, when asked what police and crime commissioners could do about the sharing of sensitive or inappropriate messages, Mr Jones said: “I guess one of the problems is you don’t know what you don’t know.”
The Conservative police and crime commissioner for Lincolnshire added: “I think people throughout time will have dealt with difficult circumstances with dark humour; that’s not the same as sharing inappropriate content in whatever kind of way and that goes back to what I was saying about that cultural change.
“Every new recruit of the 20,000 that are going to be recruited needs to be clear that it’s not acceptable, every officer above them needs to understand that it’s not acceptable.
“The standards, what’s acceptable, is set from the top of every police force. I think it’s right that they reflect on that and take appropriate action. It’s probably something the [National] Police Chiefs Council need to get into an agreed position on. It does need to be a universal standard.”
Retired Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Paige Kimberley earlier this month accused the force’s commissioner Cressida Dick and home secretary Priti Patel of ignoring warnings of “vulgar and sexist” WhatsApp messages in an unrelated group chat of Met officers and contractors.
Ms Kimberley said she wrote to the pair following the death of Ms Everard, who was raped and murdered by off-duty officer Couzens after he kidnapped her in a fake Covid arrest, requesting a review into “how inappropriate behaviour is addressed amongst contract workers.”
She is due to be compensated after a tribunal last month ruled a job offer was withdrawn a day after she reported sexist messages and images on the WhatsApp group to her civilian line manager.
Mr Jones on Thursday also called for police to have a greater presence on social media to tackle misinformation.
He said police should be more active across online platforms to “reassure the public with the truth about what’s going on” and to “keep the conversation in the reality”.
“If they don’t, fear of crime is much higher disproportionately than the reality and that is just as debilitating," hy het gesê. “Because if my mother, who’s 83, dare not leave her home to go into the village shop, won’t catch the bus to go into the centre of the city to do her shopping because she’s scared, you have massively affected her quality of life.
“She was no less safe doing it tomorrow than she was last week. But if she feels it, it’s changed everything and I think policing has a duty to make people feel safe, as well as be safe.”
He told reporters if there were posts shared on social media about alleged shed break-ins, byvoorbeeld, police should respond reassuring the public they are aware and investigating.
“I’m not suggesting they should be going on social media instead of policing,” said Mr Jones, but he added: “I do think all forces need to make sure that their policies and procedures enable an appropriate level of resource to go towards informing and listening to the public through these other mediums.”