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New emphasis on social media checks for police vetting and gun licensing

Police Vetting and Social Media Checks

Following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard on the 3rd of March this year by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, calls have been made to review the police vetting process. Policing and Crime Minister Kit Malthouse, stated in a recent report that the Metropolitan Police Service (Britain’s largest police force) only began introducing checks on officer’s social media accounts earlier this year. Malthouse stated that it was a “surprise that it only started this year” given how indicative of an individual’s life their social media activity can be. Due to failures to introduce social media vetting earlier, there are likely to be thousands of officers who have never had their social media activity checked. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police will be examining the current vetting system this year as part of their annual review after being requested to do so by the Home Office.

Calls for national standardization

Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore is aiming to instigate a unified vetting procedure by the end of the financial year linking seven forces together, in an attempt to improve the system; however he is looking to take forward the idea of a national vetting standard for police officers:

“I think we should have a national vetting standard. We actually do have a national vetting standard for contractors who do building work and other things for the constabulary so I don’t really understand why we haven’t got a national system in place [for officers]… That is being worked on and something I would like to take forward because that will help everybody.”

Gun licensing background checks

Vetting of police officers is not the only area under scrutiny, as this month sees the UK’s existing gun licensing laws being updated with new statutory guidance. The guidance updates come in the wake of the fatal shooting in Plymouth on the 12th of August this year where five people were killed by Jake Davison. The Home Office has announced that from 1st November, laws will be tightened further to protect the public by introducing additional checks for those applying for licenses, including a medical pro forma signed by a registered doctor and the addition of social media checks where applicable.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for firearms licensing Chief Constable Debbie Tedds, said:

“Policing take this matter incredibly seriously and any advancement on the already extensive checks will help to ensure that only those who are safe to carry a firearms licence will receive one.”

New Statutory Guidance on Gun Licensing

Under the section of “additional checks” within the new guidance document, both social media and credit checks are listed as part of the newly permitted options:

  • Checks with other agencies (social services/probation/multi-agency groups)

  • Checks with other regulatory or licensing bodies

  • Drug or alcohol tests

  • Credit or financial checks

  • Information obtained from open source social media

  • Interviews with associates of the applicant

  • Background checks on partners, cohabitees or people with access to the applicant’s address

  • Checks where there is an indication of domestic abuse.

Social Media “Red Flags”

An investigation is underway by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to examine Devon and Cornwall police’s handling of Jake Davison’s gun license. Social media usage by Davison in the preceding months was said to suggest an obsession with “incel” (involuntary celibate) culture as well as an interest in the USA and guns. Devon and Cornwall’s Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, said that officers did not analyse Davison’s social media usage when returning his licence to him as they believed it would be an “invasion of privacy,” according to the Sun newspaper.

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