On June 19, 2019, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said seventy-two (72) officers were “removed from the street” after the Plain View Project, a database that collects public Facebook posts and comments from current and former police officers, claimed it had uncovered more than 300 racist, sexist and/or biased social media posts by the city’s police officers.  The analysis revealed that at least 328 active-duty officers allegedly posted troubling content, including posts that celebrated acts of violence among immigrants and black people accused of committing crimes. Some posts captured long, hate-filled exchanges that appeared to involve multiple officers; another Philadelphia outlet attributed some of the posts to high-ranking members of the department, including a police inspector, six captains and eight lieutenants.

 

Sometimes it’s easy to empathize with a police 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 police 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. Police officers need to be reminded, just as civilians, that their social media rants about current affairs are nothing more than a bad case of narcissism.  

social media

(Pixabay)

 

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 police officers take positive steps to keep their reputations clean online. 

A (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.

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The controversy grew due to the contributions of Alexander’s colleagues. Firefighter Damon Estes, Firefighter Eric Minga and Police Officer Lance Luckey hit “like” after reading Alexander’s post. At the time of this incident, neither department had a social media policy. But as you know, or are about to find out, numerous police departments have them in place. For example, the Chicago Police Department has a social media policy. Their General Order: G09-01-06 is for Officers Use of Social Media Outlets. 

technology

Investigators spend hours coming through texts and cellphone data for court cases. And nowadays, social media is especially important. (Pixabay)

 

Issue Date: 09-March-2012. Index Category: Professionalism. ‘Members of the Law Enforcement should expect that any information they create, transmit, download, exchange, or discuss what 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 fireman and Officer Lance Luckey for 30 days for simply “liking” the Columbus firefighter’s post.  Be cautious of what you post.  But also, be extremely cautious what and when you click that “like” button too! 

Another recent Facebook fail was seventeen-year veteran Elgin Officer Jason Lentz.  Officer Lentz was fired a few years ago after posting on his Facebook account about eighteen year-old Michael Brown: “Innocent victim my ass. Did society a favor.” 

 

The Elgin Police Department said Jason Lentz’s 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, Missouri. Police officials said Lentz did not remove the posts, only edited them, and did not obey the order of a commander.  As of October 2015, an arbitrator sustained the officer’s discipline and instead determined Lentz should have been suspended for six months.  My personal thoughts on this are simple: are you willing to sacrifice six months or even your job to post your thoughts about something on Facebook?  Like it or not, police officers are held to higher standards. Remember – there is a constant bulls-eye on our back.

Numerous groups that hate police 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 can happen!  Be mindful of those who are your “friends” on Facebook. They have no obligation to act in a way befitting genuine 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 posts can be used against people in court by an ex-spouse, an angry family member, a neighbor whose car you might have damaged, or even the federal government itself. Facebook content is now part and parcel of most court proceedings. Next time you’re at court, ask the criminal defense lawyers. Social media is a wonderful asset as far as gathering evidence to be used against officers charged with any offense. 

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 police officer will do their job 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 of your agency.  My uncle, a retired “old school” officer told me,  “No cop is impressed with officers posting work stories on social media!”  

My question is, are you? 

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