"Incidents can feel like a crime to those affected."

The South Yorkshire police department in England was accused online of trying to monitor speech after asking citizens to report "non-crime hate incidents."

In a Sunday tweet, the South Yorkshire Police Department called on citizens to pay attention to a particularly elusive type of misconduct. "In addition to reporting hate crime," the tweet exhorted, "please report non-crime hate incidents."

The rather nebulous term "non-crime hate incident" includes, according to the tweet, any form of speech that can be considered "offensive or insulting" to someone, and even applies to everything between personal communication and online comments.

The tweet, which is part of a larger campaign against hate crimes, gathered more than 9,000 replies as of Tuesday.

By seeming to suggest that English security forces are prepared to police personal offenses, the tweet has tapped into a growing concern that cultural sensitivity and identity politics might take precedent over free speech.

European Parliament member Patrick O'Flynn, who represents the right-wing populist party Ukip, slammed the police department's statement as an attack on freedom.

Many echoed this sentiment and interpreted the tweet as Orwellian.

Many commenters agreed that the tweet expresses an extension of PC culture, bordering on the authoritarian.

Many commenters worried about the vagueness of the police announcement.

But most just mocked the absurdity of cops using police resources to deal with hurt feelings. 

As one user pointed out, it's not precisely the right time for the department to embark on a speech policing mission, as violent crime increased by 57 percent in South Yorkshire last year, according to the ​YorkshirePost.

Given that the numbers of officers has declined by 15 percent since 2010, the department is not exactly well-positioned to expand their jurisdiction.

Still, the "woke" police force stood by their tweet. On Monday, they doubled down on its claim that mean words can turn into real crimes. 

"Incidents may not be criminal offences," went the response tweet, "but can feel like a crime to those affected & can sometimes escalate to crimes."

The police noted that it can only prosecute people who broke the law, but nevertheless "want to know about non-crime hate incidents."

In a Tuesday interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari, South Yorkshire Police Commissioner Alan Billings admitted his force does not have enough officers to tackle burglaries in the community, but yet it is still committed to addressing non-crime hate incidents that are part of a pattern.

"If someone is saying, 'look, I've been verbally abused several times now by these people in these circumstances and it's causing me distress, it's causing my family distress, it's causing my community distress,' it's important that the police investigate," Billings said.

However, it appears a one-time offender has already fallen victim to South Yorkshire's speech policing: A caller to Tom Swarbrick's LBC radio show ​claimed he was forced to write an apology letter after someone reported him for making a joke about his Asian friend looking like a terrorist in a drawing.

Adam, who wanted to protect his identity but stated he is also of Asian heritage, said that while his friend took the doodle well, and even found it funny, someone else came across it and reported it to police. 

He said the officer told him if the incident had happened ten years ago, he would have just given him a call, but because it's 2018, he was forced to apologize to his friend, who wasn't even offended in the first place. 

"They got an internal record, but it's not a criminal record or anything," Adam said of the consequences he faced for the drawing.

Germania is a staff writer at Pluralist. 

You can reach her on Twitter.