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Exeter PCSO 'banned from posting crime Tweets'

By This is Devon  |  Posted: October 03, 2012

Sarah Giles' Twitter page

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A member of police staff in Exeter has told her Twitter followers she has been instructed to stop using the micro-blogging site, after complaints from students about the content of some posts.

Police Community Support Officer Sarah Giles said she has been “told to cease tweeting” by her bosses, after posting nearly 10,000 140-character messages, often covering incidents on her patch in Devon.

She and several of her colleagues use social media to tell followers about fixed penalty notices handed out, as well as advising the community about petty crime and vandalism in the area.

In one tweet two weeks ago, PCSO Giles wrote: “Lots of strong coffee needed tonight :-/ follow up calls to student who threw up in taxi and victims of wing mirror bashing £exeterfreshers”, the latter understood to be a reference to first-year university students in the city.

But a University of Exeter spokesman tonight confirmed its Students’ Guild had “raised concerns about some of the tweets with (Devon and Cornwall) police”.

The statement added: “The University of Exeter Students’ Guild raised its concerns about whether some of the tweets in question were appropriate.

“It was then left entirely up to the police as to what action (if any) to take. Both the university and the Students’ Guild have worked hard to build a strong relationship with the police.

“This has been particularly apparent throughout Freshers’ Week during which students have expressed their appreciation for the role the police have played in ensuring that they all remain safe.”

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said it was “perfectly reasonable” for the force to have a policy about how its staff use social media.

But he added: “We’ve seen some hugely disproportionate police reactions to social media issues recently and there are clear freedom of speech issues that need to be considered.

“A few complaints should not lead to such a knee-jerk reaction and I’d much rather officers spend their time investigating crime than policing what upsets a few students on Twitter.”

The officer, who uses the handle @TopshamPolice in reference to the part of Exeter she covers, wrote today: “Thank you for all your support. I was told to close the account and cease tweeting. It upset me very much and is still being discussed RT :(”

Devon and Cornwall Police say the PCSO has not been “banned” from posting updates, but has instead been offered “training” about the “content of her tweets”.

PCSO Giles has amassed more than 1,000 followers, with her tweets documenting everyday life on the beat.

But her prolific tweeting died down on September 19, when she posted simply “bye :-)” and two days later wrote: “Thank you all for following and banter over the last year – I have been instructed to cease tweeting. My apologies.”

In a statement, a police spokesman said: “The PCSO concerned has been given words of advice around the content of tweets, but has not been banned or stopped from tweeting.

“Training will now be given to the PCSO so she can better use social media in the future as an innovative communication tool.

“There is no doubt that social media is a very quick and effective means which can have pitfalls, but we are committed to ensuring staff have the knowledge and expertise where ever possible to use it properly.”

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