Sometimes it’s easy to empathize with a law enforcement officer’s need to tell someone about his or her job. Having appropriate, healthy outlets for the circumstances witnessed while on the job is critical. It’s also important that officers understand that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not the right forums for those working in law enforcement.
Social networking for those in law enforcement means keeping work at work. Law enforcement officers need to be reminded, just as civilians do, that their social media rants about current affairs are nothing more than a bad case of narcissism.
We must be mindful that plenty of people view Facebook for officer misconduct. In a sense, this is a good thing. Corruption in law enforcement should be eliminated as soon as possible. Of course, that makes it all the more important that regular, hardworking law enforcement officers take positive steps to keep their reputations clean online.
Columbus, Mississippi Firefighter Brad Alexander made a post on the wall of his personal Facebook page condemning a Columbus mother after her two-year-old son was struck by a pickup truck. In Alexander’s post, he allegedly stated the child was unattended and questioned the whereabouts of the child’s mother. The controversy grew due to the contributions of Alexander’s colleagues. Firefighters Damon Estes and Eric Minga and Law Enforcement Officer Lance Luckey liked Alexander’s post. At the time of this incident, neither department had a social media policy. But as you know, or now know, the Chicago Police Department does have a social media policy:
General Order: G09-01-06. Use of Social Media Outlets. Issue Date: March 9, 2012. Index Category: Professionalism. Members of Law Enforcement should expect that any information they create, transmit, download, exchange or discuss that is available online in a public forum may be accessed by the Department without prior notice.
The veteran Mississippi firefighter ended up resigning. Soon after, the city council suspended all three public servants – the two firefighters and officer Luckey – for 30 days for liking the Columbus firefighter’s post.
Be cautious of what you post. Be cautious when you click the “Like” button too.
Another recent Facebook failure involved a 17-year veteran Elgin officer. Officer Jason Lentz was fired last year after posting on his Facebook account about the Ferguson incident involving 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The Elgin Police Department said Lentz’s Aug. 15 Facebook post about the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting violated the department’s policy governing officers’ social media use. Lentz was told to remove posts that referred to events in Ferguson. Police officials said Lentz did not remove the posts, only edited them, and did not obey the order of a commander. His angry post and insubordination led to a hearing about his suspension and later possible termination. As of October 2015, an arbitrator sustained the officer’s discipline and instead determined Lentz should have been suspended for six months.
I can’t help but think… are you willing to sacrifice your job for a Facebook post? Like it or not, law enforcement officers are held to higher standards. Might I remind you, in the current climate, there are constant bullseyes on our backs.
Numerous groups that dislike law enforcement officers and/or defense attorneys will examine anything you post meticulously, including any “Like” button you hit. Be careful of any pictures that an attorney can use to question your testimony or get your case thrown out. It has already happened. Be mindful of those who are your friends on Facebook. They have no obligation to act in a manner befitting authentic friendship.
Law enforcement officers, like any other Facebook users, should be aware of the fact that everything they post is admissible in a court of law. Facebook user posts can be used against them in court by an ex-spouse, an angry family member, a neighbor whose car you might have damaged, or even the federal government. Facebook content is now part and parcel of most court proceedings. Next time you’re at court, ask criminal defense lawyers. Social media is such a wonderful asset as far as gathering evidence that the most agencies have a social media officer or team.
How many officers are you friends with on Facebook who post pictures and stories from their tour of duty? I am willing to bet you know a few. The public must trust that a law enforcement officer will do his or her job without bias and without telling the world via Facebook.
Every time you post a comment or like a random photo, know that it may reflect a negative image on you and, more importantly, your agency. My (veteran) partner once said, “No cop is impressed with officers posting work stories on Facebook.”
My question is, are you?
Brian Mc Vey, MAP, has 10 years of law enforcement experience with the Chicago Police Department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.