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POLICE officers and staff in the West Mercia force have been investigated 20 times for misuse of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter in the last five years.

Breaches in the local force included making a malicious communication and putting inappropriate content on a dating site.

In West Mercia Police 13 officers and six police staff were investigated for misuse of social media between January 1, 2009 and February 17, 2014.

Figures were published today (Tuesday) following a national investigation by the Press Association of all 43 forces in England and Wales.

Breaches investigated in West Mercia included improper disclosure of complainant's information on a public social networking forum, accessing a social networking site on duty, placing 'inappropriate content' on a dating social networking site, examples of 'inappropriate commentary' and a malicious social media communication to cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety.

Most cases were dealt with by way of management action, informal action, written warnings or final written warnings but one was not upheld and another 'unsubstantiated' leading to no action.

One case led to a member of the police staff resigning/retiring for using a social media application on a personal phone to circulate 'inappropriate work-related footage to colleagues'.

In one case a member of police staff in the top pay grade (8+) £31,437 to £62,332 made inappropriate commentary on a personal social media site.

In another case disclosure of information about work on social media was by a police officer ranked 'inspector or above'.

Of the forces who responded to the Freedom of Information request the worst offender was Greater Manchester with 88 investigations followed by West Midlands with 74 and the Met with 69. The lowest was Durham with one.

However, certain forces 'refused' to respond according to PA, including Essex, Hampshire, Merseyside and Staffordshire.

The report by PA said of the nationwide picture: "Police officers and civilians made racist and threatening comments on Facebook and Twitter, sent friend requests to victims of crime and uploaded images of colleagues in "compromising positions".

Hundreds of police employees have been investigated for breaching social media guidelines at forces across England and Wales during a five-year period.

A total of 828 cases were reported to police bosses, ranging from social media gaffes to sackable offences which threatened to bring forces into disrepute."

A spokesman for West Mercia Police said: "Social media has revolutionised the way people communicate and share information and provides both forces with new and innovative ways of engaging with and involving people in policing.

As with anything there are risks attached to information sharing, however the forces believe these should be proportionately and appropriately managed by the same principles that underpin all police activity.

Therefore the risks attributed to using social media should not inhibit or prevent Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police maximising the opportunities social media provides.

"Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police use social media to engage with, motivate, inform and educate our communities to better protect people from harm.

"To enable our workforce to effectively use social media the forces have a Social Media Communications Policy and set of guidelines which inform our officers, staff and volunteers how to use social media in both a personal and professional capacity.

"The basic principle is that all officers, staff and volunteers are accountable for whatever they put into the public domain even in a privately held account and must not behave in a way which is likely to bring discredit upon the police service or their force.

"This applies to information published via social media both in a professional capacity and for private social media usage by officers, staff and volunteers and even their families where the information may have been obtained from the officer, staff or volunteer.

"All officers, staff and volunteers are reminded that any comments made on social media will be deemed to be in the public domain and seen potentially as official police comment.

"Any inappropriate comments are therefore liable to a misconduct severity assessment.

"This applies to both personal and corporate sites. We also actively encourage our workforce to follow the national ACPO Guidance on the Safe Use of the Internet and Social Media by Police Officers and Police Staff ."