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Taking Any Active Part in Politics!
Before you read this blog, please be aware of this health warning. This is my opinion designed to generate a debate. It is not legal advice. It is not a definitive answer to the issue. It should not be relied upon as such.
Over the last few days there has been much Twitter debate about the use of social media and police officers, via their accounts, on or off duty, leaving themselves vulnerable to an accusation of taking an active role in politics. Opinion has been proffered from a legal representative and a former head of professional standards.
Both views have offered similar advice (I have read neither as a threat) that tweets criticising government policy could breach professional standards.
It is true that schedule 1 to regulation 6, Police Regulations & Determinations 2003 details the restrictions on a police officer's private life. Specifically in dealing with impartiality it states, and in particular a member of a police force shall not take any active part in politics. Unhelpfully a definition is not provided of what would or would not constitute any active part in politics. Some may say the wording is clear but is it!
We can all think of examples that would clearly breach schedule 1; canvassing for a candidate, encouraging others to vote in a particular way; delivering election leaflets, etc. However, being a member of a political party wouldn't breach it, even though you have paid a fee to join; a fee that will ultimately be used in election campaigns. In the upcoming PCC elections I have made it absolutely clear that Kent Police Federation will not be supporting a candidate & neither will we be commenting on individual policies. We will be leaving the politics to the politicians. We will be leaving the election to electorate.
However, what about commenting on government policies that relate to policing? The Police Federation of England & Wales has two statutory responsibilities; the welfare of its members & the provision of an efficient police service. All the officials in PFEW are serving officers. How could they ever fulfil their statutory responsibilities without criticising, or agreeing with the government of the day?
How could Paul McKeever deliver his keynote speech at Conference without talking about 20% cuts or the attack on police officers pay and pensions or privatisation?
35,000 police officers marched through the streets of London on 10th May protesting about cuts and privatisation. They were openly criticising government policy. Did they breach schedule 1?
Similarly in 2008, 25,000 police officers marched in protest against Jacqui Smith's refusal to backdate a pay award. Were they all in breach too?
Is a police officer unable to lobby their MP over their dissatisfaction with government policy?
If a police officer is at a dinner party or in the pub and talk turns to politics, do they have to absent themselves lest they are in breach of schedule 1?
In reality, social media has brought this into sharp focus. Thousands of police officers express a view, some vent their spleen. Whichever it is it needs to be done professionally.
If politicians are minded to complain about police officers being "political", they need to pause and think. Is it about police officers being political, or is it about them being critical? They need to recall their days in opposition when they have eagerly seized the opportunity to publicly stand shoulder to shoulder with the Police Federation. They've marched with police officers. They've used these occasions to launch their own campaigns criticising the government of the day; both Labour & Conservative politicians have done this. When in power they should remember how in opposition they have used policing for their own political ends.
Politicians have introduced politics into policing, not police officers. If police officers then criticise them they should be big enough to accept it.
Just my views!
Kent Police Federation