Essex Police ban staff from web forum

ESSEX Police has banned its workforce from accessing an internet forum which was being used to severely criticise the Chief Constable, it has emerged.The Police Oracle website, used by...

By Roddy Ashworth

ESSEX Police has banned its workforce from accessing an internet forum which was being used to severely criticise the Chief Constable, it has emerged.

The Police Oracle website, used by officers nationwide for a variety of services, contained negative comments about the county's top officer Roger Baker apparently from rank-and-file Essex Police officers

But a joint statement released by Essex Police and the police authority last night said the messages on the website were “misleading and inaccurate” and did not reflect the views of officers and staff.

And a force spokeswoman explained that access to certain websites could be stopped if they did not relate to work matters.

The site is used for obtaining policing and legal information, as well as job opportunities and law enforcement news. It also contains a “forum” section in which police officers can post their opinions to be discussed by other members.

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One of these, called “Essex Police - What a Mess”, began with a warning for anybody thinking of transferring to the county's force. It alleged it had deteriorated sharply since Roger Baker became chief constable just over a year ago.

Allegations contained in the postings - many appearing to be from experienced Essex officers - include claims that the force's morale is at an all-time low, a record number of disgruntled officers are leaving to join the Met and that in the rush to get headline-grabbing arrest numbers, real crime is not being investigated properly.

The entry has so far drawn almost 400 replies, some of which are highly critical of Mr Baker's style of policing and management.

Some contributors have stood up for Mr Baker, saying that the low morale within the force should be blamed on Government rather than individual chief constables.

However, the pages cannot now be accessed from the force computers.

Last night, the statement from the force and police authority launched a vigorous defence of Mr Baker, saying his record spoke for itself - with crime down and detection rates up.

It also said the force sometimes became aware of websites that were not work-related and where access should be limited - so officers used their work time dealing with policing issues.

Robert Chambers, police authority chairman, added: “I have considered the messages on the Police Oracle website and do not accept that they reflect the views of the majority of police officers or members of the public.

“The Authority fully supports the Chief Constable and the changes he has introduced and is continuing to introduce. Both Essex Police and the Authority are committed to improving the service to the public. The Authority has no intention of taking any further action concerning the allegations.”

The statement said: “Police officers and staff are encouraged to raise any concerns through the established processes adopted by Essex Police or informally direct with their senior managers.”

A spokesman for Essex's branch of the Police Federation said: “The Police Federation in Essex has an excellent working relationship with our chief constable, Roger Baker, such that there are regular meetings where views are exchanged openly and rigorously.

“The concerns being raised by people on the Police Oracle website are not new, and we have debated them with Mr. Baker.”

He added: “Police officers have as much right to express an opinion as anyone else.

“However, the Police Federation would prefer that members directed their concerns to their local representatives so that important issues can be discussed directly with the chief constable.”

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