I was a police officer for 11 years – now I get Twitter abuse from cop accounts

It seems that cops are never more defensive than they are on Twitter (Picture: JOHNGOMEZPIX / Getty Images)

Since leaving the Metropolitan Police Service in 2015, I’ve been speaking out about the misogynistic ‘canteen culture’ that exists within policing. 

I’ve shared my experiences of everything from relatively ‘minor’ micro-aggressions – referring to women as the ‘team bike’, ranking women in order of attractiveness, and comments about oral sex from the male members of the team while eating a banana – to my drink being spiked with vodka.

I’ve spoken out in newspapers, on BBC News and various radio programmes – frankly to anyone who will listen. As a result, I’ve received some shocking sexist abuse from anonymous social media accounts, calling me a ‘f**kwit,’ told that I’m part of a ‘coven’. And the worst thing? I suspect these accounts are run by serving or ex police officers. 

Officers who are meant to be there to protect and help us at our most vulnerable times. Officers we are meant to turn to when we need them.

I realised after the horrific murder of Sarah Everard that there was a problem with ‘police Twitter’ – the large network of police accounts, mostly anonymous, who tweet on current policing stories. 

They support each other with retweets and by piling on to the comments of anyone who dares criticise policing. Something has to be done about it. 

I began to challenge the people who ran these accounts, asking if they thought that their posts were professional – posts that used offensive language (e.g. accusing people of using the race card, or sexist language like ‘silly cow’), or made inappropriate jokes – which only increased abuse directed towards me. 

Their immediately defensive responses disappointed me, and the abuse made me feel threatened, especially as it appeared to be coming from groups of powerful men.

Why do I suspect these anonymous accounts are or were police officers? They tend to have a wide knowledge of policing phrases and tactics, they have posted images of the inside vehicles or in uniform, and many are part of groups who regularly comment on policing discussions. 

They usually have ranks in their name (PC/DC/detective/constable) and often have an avatar that is a police-related photo. 

I’ve seen that the largest of them have tens of thousands of followers, with a concerning habit of sharing the social media posts of prominent feminists (often women of colour) and deriding their views or making comments about them. This frequently results in hate being directed towards these women.

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During my research, I identified one of these accounts as a serving Metropolitan Police constable. I made an official complaint about his Twitter conduct, and received an apology from the Met, in which they acknowledged that his social media use had ‘fallen below’ the ‘standard of professionalism required’. 

At the time of writing this, I believe he is back on Twitter under a different username – it feels like nothing has changed.

It seems that cops are never more defensive than they are on Twitter, and I think it’s important to acknowledge here that any abuse I suffer as a white woman is tenfold for women of colour who speak out against police.

Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent, and Shabnam Chaudhri, a former detective superintendent, have both spoken out about their experiences of racism and sexism during their police careers. 

Both have received abuse from an anonymous police account, who in now-deleted tweets called them ‘grifters’, a derogatory term suggesting they are only talking about sexism to line their pockets or gain notoriety, a common tactic amongst misogynists, implying women are attention seekers and gold diggers. 

Each time the account shared opinions on these women, followers ‘pile on’ to his victim, adding to her distress with their own abusive tweets. Many of the followers I suspect to be police accounts, too.

Feminists who speak out about misogyny within policing are targeted by police accounts online with insults such as ‘poisonous mare,’ ‘triggered,’ ‘media whore’, ‘Adolf in a skirt’, ‘foul harridan’, ‘spiteful cow,’ ‘sad bitch’ and many more. Many of these tweets have been deleted but they have stayed with me.

This type of behaviour is not only horrible to witness, but there’s two critically dangerous consequences of people who appear to be warranted officers behaving like this on a public forum – the first is the irreparable damage their tweets do to the already fragile trust women have in the police.

What happens when women see police accounts telling women to ‘seek medical help for your victim mentality,’ or ‘move on, darling?’.

How can women trust male police officers to safeguard them when officers online freely make jokes about domestic abuse, and constantly belittle women?

With many forces now in special measures, and the Baroness Casey Review shockingly revealing that allegations relating to sexual misconduct and other discriminatory behaviours are less likely than other allegations to result in a ‘case-to-answer’ decision, reckless cops risk turning women away from reporting crime.

Irresponsible use of social media by just one cop tarnishes all of the hard work that’s being done by their colleagues behind them

Secondly, when sexist ‘banter’ becomes the norm, violent bullies amongst police teams feel justified in their belief that women are objects, and encouraged to treat women as they see fit. 

And when a violent, misogynistic bully holds a warrant card, women everywhere are at risk. 

While I do still believe that most male police officers are good men, I cannot ignore the unacceptable sexist behaviour that I witnessed in my 11 years of serving as a constable, and ‘police twitter’ reminds me of the boorish, laddish behaviour I saw far too much of. 

Though dangerous predators are few and far between in the force, how can women possibly know which ones to avoid? Sarah Everard didn’t know.

If you cannot trust that each and every officer will act with the utmost professionalism and safeguard women at all costs, then you cannot trust any of them.

Many police forces have policies on how their officers should use social media, guided by the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics, which states, amongst other guidelines, that officers must use social media ‘responsibly and safely’, and not publish any material online that ‘might undermine your own reputation or that of the policing profession or might run the risk of damaging public confidence in the police service.’ 

It is my belief that every example I have provided as part of this article is a breach of the Code of Ethics. Only a UK-wide roll out of training around police use of social media across the UK, and a reminder that police officers reflect the force they serve when they’re online, can possibly right the damage Police Twitter is doing to public faith in policing.

Irresponsible use of social media by just one cop tarnishes all of the hard work that’s being done by their colleagues behind them, but anonymous bullies online don’t seem to care about consequences, safe as they are behind their faceless masks. 

While Twitter has closed some of the more abusive police accounts – those that openly use swear words and offensive slurs (usually after I have reported them, with the support of other women) – others stay just the right side of abuse, meaning that many get away with frequently trolling the same women, including me. 

Though I have personally been advised by Dame Lynn Owens, deputy commissioner of the Met Police, via Twitter, to report any accounts of ‘met officers engaged in sexist, misogynistic or bullying behaviour,’ when I do report them, I am told by some police forces that there is no evidence they are actually police officers. 

Their apparent refusal to properly investigate these accounts tells me that Commissioner Rowley’s declarations to root out ‘criminal colleagues’, and work to ‘identify and investigate those who are predatory, who abuse their position of trust’ are just meaningless soundbites that give me zero faith that any action will be taken. 

Until a statutory enquiry into police misogyny is ordered and completed, and police leaders across the UK gain control over the rogue officers who abuse women on Twitter, none of us are truly safe.

You can find a petition calling for an inquiry into misogyny in the police force here

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