Categories: Opinion

Opinion: crash scene tweets reveal a dark insight into modern policing

You’re a traffic officer dealing with the nasty job of sweeping up a crash when a member of the public approaches and asks – what you perceive to be – a stupid question. It takes a great deal of restraint not to tell said member of the public to, let’s be frank, do one.

But you’re a police officer. You smile, answer their query and get on with doing your job – no matter how challenging that job is.

Or that’s how it should be. But today, there’s the temptation of using social media to vent your frustrations. Doing so would be extremely unprofessional, right? Especially using an official police Twitter account do to so.

Oh. You might think that @roadpoliceBCH (the account of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Road Policing Unit) makes a good point here. Call me old fashioned, though – I think it’s part of a police officer’s job to help the public when there’s a road closure. The circumstances around the tweet aren’t clear, and if the police officer was desperately trying to deal with life or death injuries, I fully understand their frustration. I would still politely suggest that it’s unprofessional to vent their annoyance on Twitter.

I raised my concerns and whoever is behind the Twitter account took the time to respond back.

Fine. That clarifies the situation. But… and feel free to call me a snowflake: am I right to expect conversations with my local traffic policing unit to be a little less, well, sarcastic?

This isn’t the only occasion when I’ve seen things posted by the police that I don’t think have a place on Twitter. I posted an opinion piece last year saying that I didn’t want to see pictures of car crashes on Twitter. Long story short: I know someone who was seriously injured in a crash. Before the police could notify the family, they’d seen pictures of the incident on Twitter. These weren’t posted by rubbernecking members of the public, either. They were posted on official police Twitter accounts and picked up by the local newspaper. They thought it’d be OK because the number plate of my mate’s distinctive yellow car had been blurred out.

And then there’s tweets like this, posted by Greater Manchester Police’s traffic division.

Would they have posted a similar picture had the incident involved a Fiat Punto? Probably not. Should they be encouraging ‘trial by Twitter’? I don’t think so. Should they be doing their best to reduce the congestion by stopping the rubbernecking that’s clearly happening in the background? Yes.

Incidentally, it later emerged that the Ferrari driver tested positive for cannabis – but not until after the sarcastic tweet suggesting the driver was speeding. I’d rather the police didn’t publicly jump to conclusions before being in possession of all the facts.

None of us get it right all of the time, and I can’t stress enough that I’m very appreciative of the job that the police do. But Twitter shows an ugly insight into a police service that should be setting an example – and that includes thinking twice before tweeting live from crash scenes.

>NEXT: We drive a Volvo V90 police car

Andrew Brady :Web editor at MR. Drives a 2005 Toyota MR2. Has a penchant for the peculiar.

View Comments (5)

  • Andrew, yes, i think you are being a snowflake, just let the lads and lasses do their job. However, having been at the sharp end, it's not just one quiere, but numerous with the same basic question, "why are you stopping me from doing what I want, which causes me slight inconvenience." So, in answer to your question, if a (what you consider to be a 'sarcastic' reply,) is given, do you not consider that may be a response to the frustration caused by numerous enquiries of the same nature? Or is your criticism aimed at the fact that it originates from an 'official' police twitter account? Given that, that is probably read by more people that mine, I think that it may convey the idea of stop asking stupid questions at the scene of an incident and read the signs.

    • I totally agree with Forever friend, let the Police get on with their job. If the road is closed it is clearly closed for a reason - maybe stop thinking about yourself and think of what may have happened in that road. Why do you think the Police are posting these pictures of cars in the first place? It is to highlight what can so easily happen on the roads today when you don't adhere to the speed limit - maybe that image will actually get through to people the dangers of speeding and if it saves even one life then it is worth it ! I take my hat off to all of our emergency services and the very difficult job they do and I do think about the horrific things that they must see everyday whilst doing their jobs. So maybe when you have just attended a very upsetting road traffic accident and people keep coming up to you and asking when is this road going to be open - why don't you spare a thought for events that may have unfolded Reddy. The road will be open when it is open !

    • So you think posting people's cars on twitter without their permission is ok? Or making assumptions about the way someone was driving is ok just because of the car they're driving? Oh, and I don't know if you've ever seen a car accident, but I'm surprised the damage done to that Lambo at 50mph wasn't greater.
      There's also a lot of inconsistency with regards to road closures. In fact earlier this week my usual road was "closed", execpt with a space for vehicles (like me) to get through. So what does "road closed" actually mean. I think it's a perfectly reasonable question, and saying "no" is a perfectly reasonable response.
      Venting frustration is unprofessional, whether you like it or not. If these officers worked for a private company they would be disciplined for acting like this.
      Nothing "snowflake" about it, it's a lack of restraint and professionalism.

      • Reddy, firstly, I was a Police officer for 30 years, 6 of which was as a dedicated traffic patrol officer. During that time I attended an average of 3 traffic accidents per working day which equates to approximately 3,600. During the other 24 years I had various duties, however traffic accidents have always been a fairly common occurrence. As a conservative estimate, I have probably attended in excess of 10,000 of which I probably personally dealt with over 2,000. Secondly, as you may notice from the photograph the number plate is not shown on the ** Ferrari. ** Thirdly you state, " Have you seen the state of a car which has hit something even at 30 mph? It's not pretty - especially one which isn't safety tested and isn't designed with safety in mind at all." I take it you are an experienced traffic collision investigator? As such you should be aware that ALL modern cars (including Ferrari's and Lamborghini's,) need to comply with current safety regulations, which also include crash testing. The front and rear of all vehicles are therefore specifically designed to 'crumple' in the event of a collision to absorb some of the impact forces. This in turn protects the passenger compartment (safety cell) which is engineered to survive much higher stresses. As is painfully obvious, the vehicle has not suffered a frontal collision but more a glancing blow to the offside of sufficient force to compromise the passenger compartment. (I can attest that the safety cell of modern cars are rarely compromised.) This in turn, would suggest that the forces acting on the vehicle at the time of the impact were considerable. I also believe, as the tweet originated from the GMP Traffic department, the officer being an experienced traffic collision investigator, has probably, using scientific methods, formed an opinion as to the factors involved in the circumstances of the collision, which includes, the speed of the vehicle. Finally, it is generally Traffic department officers who attend and deal with accidents which require road closures. (Or at least was in my day!) The original tweet shows obviously other emergency service workers are in the roadway ahead of the immediate Police vehicle. It doesn't show casualties, debris fields, immobilised vehicles or a myriad of other factors that need to be considered at a potential crime scene, that would necessarily require a road to be closed. (By the way, that decision is never taken lightly.) As a traffic patrol officer, I, and every one of my colleagues would make sure that the road closure would be effective as possible by using signage, cones and vehicles to ensure a safe environment at the scene. You state "In fact earlier this week my usual road was "closed", execpt (sic) with a space for vehicles (like me) to get through. So what does "road closed" actually mean" It means 'road closed' do not pass the sign with a vehicle. Although, mine and my colleagues best efforts were often circumvented by self-centred drivers, who moved unattended (because of staff shortages) cones out of the way, allowing other thoughtless, selfish drivers past to disturb the hard pushed officers by asking inane, self evident questions! (And you wonder why sarcasm is used to release tension?) Apart from that, stop being a snowflake and give the officers a break, they have probably worked all day in a traumatic situation without any refreshment break, where possibly your most traumatic moment today was finding a queue at the office coffee machine.

  • A brilliant article. Trial by Twitter (and trail by social media in general) is an increasing problem for just about everyone. The police should be the one institution which can rise above it.

    Also, yes, I do believe that Lambo was doing 52 mph. Have you seen the state of a car which has hit something even at 30 mph? It's not pretty - especially one which isn't safety tested and isn't designed with safety in mind at all.