London - British police forces are using Twitter accounts intended to help fight crime to follow gossip about hundreds of celebrities.
The official accounts were found to follow the tweets of pop stars, sportsmen, fashion designers and TV shows.
And although Twitter is free to use, many forces employ dedicated social media staff - funded by taxpayers - who are paid to monitor and maintain the accounts.
Among the celebrities followed by police forces were Victoria Beckham, Rihanna, Simon Cowell, Lady Gaga and Downton Abbey.
Scotland Yard ordered a clean-up of its official Twitter pages after receiving a formal complaint from a victim of crime. Since then police in Lambeth, south London, have deleted more than 500 links which were not work-related. Before the clear-out, the force’s account would have been swamped by hundreds of posts each day from celebrities they were following.
The crime victim who complained said she felt “sickened” when she discovered the police were “wasting hours entertaining themselves about the exploits of celebrities”.
The 39-year-old woman, who was mugged in south London last month, said: “I feel horrified that police staff are whiling away their time ogling Rihanna or getting the latest on Simon Cowell, when the local streets aren’t safe.” Social media has been embraced by the police as a way to improve its image, particularly among young people.
Forces are encouraged to use Twitter to “engage” with communities, post updates about crimes and to appeal for information and witnesses.
Guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers states that “the use of social media for private purposes during working time and from force systems should be in accordance with local force policies” and is “not recommended”.
Police in Solihull follow Cricket Australia, which offers “all the latest breaking Aussie cricket news” as well as Danny Baker, the BBC broadcaster. Leicestershire Police follows Coleen Rooney, wife of England footballer Wayne and comedian Miranda Hart. Gordon Scobbie, a former officer who advises on digital strategy, said: “I can understand following some politicians, celebrities with a cause, or perhaps local celebrities, but not Rihanna and Justin Bieber.”
Staffordshire Police claimed they follow famous figures to “deal with alleged offences against them” or encourage them to post police appeals.
Robert Oxley, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers would rather pay for bobbies on the beat than police staff who tweet.” - Daily Mail