Support for PCSO after police issue 'tweet ban'
POLICE chiefs have been accused of being out of touch after they allegedly gagged a city PCSO following a series of messages on Twitter.
Police community support officer Sarah Giles, who covers Topsham and Countess Wear, says she was asked to stop tweeting on the social networking site by bosses at Devon & Cornwall Police – a claim the force has denied.
The alleged gagging order is said to have followed a complaint from Exeter University concerning a number of tweets about the policing of students during the recent Freshers' Week.
PCSO Giles wrote on her Twitter account: "Thank you all for following and [the] banter over the last year – I have been instructed to cease tweeting. My apologies."
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She later added: "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."
In a message to the Echo, she said she was "passionate" about her job and had been "hurt" by the actions of the force.
Followers of the Topsham PCSO have criticised police bosses for "over-reacting" and have started a campaign to have the decision reversed.
City councillors, including Cowick councillor Paul Bull and Heavitree councillor Greg Sheldon, have joined calls to allow the PCSO to tweet freely again.
"I've known Sarah a long time and always felt her to be a responsible person – I can't think she would have said anything to cause offence," said Cllr Bull.
"I am shocked by it all."
Cllr Sheldon added: "There has to be some sort of interaction. You can't control it all and say to someone you are only allowed to tweet about certain things. You have got to give people some freedom."
City centre manager John Harvey, himself a frequent tweeter, also criticised the force's alleged actions.
He told the Echo: "It's really important people understand what social media is about. It allows public servants to talk directly to the people they are serving.
"Sarah was doing a really great job.
"All the reactions I'm seeing are of disbelief – everyone is behind her."
One supporter called John@Mallorcasaint said: "Ridiculous to stop her tweeting! Dehumanising police. Daft decision."
But Devon & Cornwall Police have denied banning PCSO Giles from using Twitter.
A statement from the force said: "Devon and Cornwall Police embraces social media and all staff's responsible use of it.
"The force's main Twitter account has more than 11,500 followers and we value it greatly as a way of communicating with communities and the wider public.
"The PCSO concerned has been given words of advice around the content of tweets, but has not been banned or stopped from tweeting.
"The force has a social media policy which gives clear guidance to all staff on what is deemed appropriate, and in this case, 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 wherever possible to use it properly."
A spokeswoman for Exeter University said: "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."