Police and Social Media
Think that you’re anonymous on Facebook? Do you like to blow off steam about the job by posting snarky comments on your Facebook or your personal website? How about those goofy pictures you posted after you’ve had a few beers? Think you’re covered by the First Amendment right to free speech in protecting you from career repercussions? If you want to keep your job, maybe you better think again.
Although the Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on this particular issue in regards to public safety personnel, a number of situations have emerged for law enforcement members across the country.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, Officer Stephen Rankin shot an unarmed civilian who did not obey commands following a 911 report of a burglary. During the extensive media coverage of this event, reporters accessed his Facebook account, accurately reporting a silhouette of a lynching included on the site. A final judgment on this case is still pending by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, but Rankin has done himself no favors with his Facebook post.
In 2010, Palo Alto Police detective Rod Tuason posted on his Facebook page that Open Carry advocates should be shot. As a local gun enthusiast noted, he forgot that pro-gun supporters also read Facebook. Open carrying is legal in his area.
Manatee (Florida) County Deputy Sheriff Gerald Kall was recently suspended for negative and profane comments posted on his Facebook page about a sergeant from the same department. Deputy Kall told IA investigators that he was “stressed” when he made the public statements. I’d guess he’s a lot more stressed now.
Asheville, NC forensic technician Lynn Frasier told the world on her Facebook page that all Occupy Asheville protestors should get a “hug around the neck with a rope.” She also referred to the protestors as “dirtasses.” I’m not familiar with that term, perhaps you are. Her chief, Wade Wood, is not amused and is taking her comments very seriously. Does she have the right to her opinion? Sure. Was her behavior career enhancing? You know the answer.
Here’s the bottom line. Could some of this be allowed under the right to free speech? Maybe. Do you want to risk it? You may win the lawsuit after you are disciplined or terminated, but you could lose your job and your house in the meantime while you wait to see if you prevail.
Be smart and leave dumb or revealing Facebook entries to the criminals. Facebook can be a terrific law enforcement tool for gaining intelligence about lawbreakers, especially juveniles. Let’s keep Facebook working for us rather than against us.
All members of law enforcement realize that poor impulse control is a major factor influencing criminal behavior. Police yourself. Control the impulse to emote on line. Ask Deputy Kall, is it worth losing 25 hours of pay in addition to having this incident come up on a Google search any time he applies for another job for years?
That’s what I think. I’d love to know your thoughts.
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