A Devon and Cornwall Police officer has been given a final written warning by a police disciplinary panel for sending a grossly offensive image, a meme relating to George Floyd, following an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation.
Sergeant Geraint Jones, 47, who admitted gross misconduct, was found to have breached the professional standards of authority, respect and courtesy, equality and diversity, duties and responsibilities, and discreditable conduct The panel, led by an independent legally qualified Chair, imposed its sanction yesterday (Wednesday) following a hearing held at Exeter Racecourse. The final written warning will remain in place for five years.
Sgt Jones had sent the image on 30 May 2020 to a WhatsApp group that included a number of other police officers and staff. The altered image inserted a naked adult film actor in the place of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. The original image was widely reported and showed Mr Floyd as he was laying on the ground in Minneapolis shortly before his death.
Our investigation began in June 2020 following a referral from the force after one of the WhatsApp group members reported the image to their force manager. At its conclusion in October, we sent our report, which found the officer had a disciplinary case to answer for gross misconduct, to Devon and Cornwall Police.
IOPC regional director Catrin Evans said:
The image was bound to cause significant offence, not least within our Black communities. It is encouraging that the matter was swiftly reported by a work colleague who rightly called out the behaviour.
The outcome is a reminder that the sharing of offensive material by any serving police officer is unacceptable, and that individuals will be held accountable. It is important officers understand that whether such behaviour occurs on or off duty, or in a private or public social media network, inappropriate and unprofessional conduct has serious consequences.
Sgt Jones was acquitted of the criminal offence of sending a grossly offensive image under S.127 of the Communications Act 2003 at a hearing before a district judge at Plymouth Magistrates’ Court on 21 April this year.
IOPC Director General, Michael Lockwood, wrote to the National Police Chiefs’ Council earlier this year about the sharing of offensive and inappropriate content on social media, asking them to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Behaviour https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/news/iopc-warns-officers-about-inappropriate-social-media-use.
Since the end of the IOPC investigation, Devon and Cornwall Police has acted on our recommendations to remind custody staff and the wider force of their expected behaviour under the police Code of Ethics and the Equality Act, and that they are duty-bound to challenge and report inappropriate behaviour by any colleague. The force also agreed with our recommendation to take steps to ensure that all staff comply with national police guidance about posting comments or images on social media.
Our learning recommendations were:
- The IOPC recommends that Devon and Cornwall Police take steps to ensure all officers and staff within Torquay Custody suite and the wider organisation conform to the expectations of their behaviour under the Code of Ethics, whilst on and off duty, and promote a safe and open culture, which makes clear to officers and staff that they are duty bound to challenge and report behaviour that does not align with this Code.
- The IOPC recommends that Devon and Cornwall Police take steps to ensure all officers and staff within Torquay Custody suite and the wider organisation conform to the expectations of their behaviour under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, whilst on and off duty, and promote a safe and open culture which makes clear to officers and staff that they are duty bound to challenge and report behaviour that does not align with this Act.
- The IOPC recommends that Devon and Cornwall Police take steps to ensure all officers and staff within Torquay Custody suite and the wider organisation are complying with the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Guidelines on the Safe use of the Internet and Social Media by Police Officers and Police Staff 2013. They should also make clear to officers and staff that WhatsApp and other instant messaging platforms are considered forms of social media.
Written By: Mark Pearson