Many of us have witnessed, heard or read about somebody victimized by a social media post, which was either deliberately done, or just a product of some irresponsible social networking behavior. But the victim is not always the one whom the post is intended for, but in many cases, those words act like a boomerang that hits the person who candidly, yet carelessly vented thoughts and feelings.
Law enforcement officers are not an exemption to this. We can see common headlines speaking about controversial posts of police officers that consequently affected them and the agencies they work for. Some have even lost their jobs. And these are not simply embarrassing, but more importantly, it affects the integrity and safety of the officer as well as the operation and reputation of law enforcement as a whole.
Here are some examples:
A part-time police officer from McKeesport, PA who posted her photo in uniform with the caption, “I’m the law today,” followed by a racial slur, led to her termination.
Chief Says He Had ‘No Complaints’ About Officer Fired For Posting Racial Slur: Officer Melissa Adamson served in… https://t.co/9b9wUyiVUU
— Pittsburgh News (@BreakingPGHNews) September 28, 2016
A Kansas City police officer is under investigation after a controversial post on social media referring to the Tulsa officer as a “good shot” following her fatal encounter with Terence Crutcher.
— The Reporter (@TheReporter00) September 23, 2016
A veteran of the Detroit Police Department, was demoted after his post went viral. In it he wrote: “For the first time in my nearly 17 years as a law enforcement officer I contemplated calling into work in response to the outrageous act perpetrated against my brothers. It seems like the only response that will demonstrate our importance to society as a whole. The only racists here are the piece of (expletive) Black Lives Matter terrorists and their supporters.”
A similar incident occurred in South Carolina the day after the Dallas attacks when a highway patrol trooper posted a status on her Facebook page. The post says, “PLEASE delete me if you feel the need to bash the police … I have deleted several already making comments asking God to make sure the police don’t kill them or their sons … GROW UP find something else to complain about, get a job or do something productive in your community to make a difference instead of just commenting on half biases that don’t even give a true depiction of what half of these situations involved.”
The post then included two photos of the trooper, one of which was of her in her South Carolina highway patrol uniform. Since the post included the picture that identifies her as a state trooper, the matter was turned over to the Office of Professional Responsibility for a proper investigation.
A sergeant for Louisville Metro Corrections was suspended after sharing a repugnant meme on Facebook featuring a white police officer and the words, “If we really wanted you dead all we’d have to do is stop patrolling your neighborhoods … and wait.”
— Josh Breslow (@JoshBreslowWKRN) July 13, 2016
“Every day the men and women of Metro Corrections work to strengthen race relations in this community,” said Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Director Mark Bolton in a written statement. “Sgt. Hale’s social media decision has hurt those good efforts.”
“A corrections officer with this attitude poses a danger to our community and to his colleagues …, ” wrote Sadiqa N. Reynolds, president, and CEO of the Louisville Urban League. “The idea that this would even be in his private thoughts makes it clear that at this point he is not worthy of the uniform.”
A fire captain at the Columbia South Carolina Fire Department was fired after threatening to “run over” Black Lives Matter protesters. He wrote, “Idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work or there is gonna be some run over dumb asses.”
About an hour later, he added another post. “Public Service Announcement: If you attempt to shut down an interstate, highway, etc on my way home, you best hope I’m not one of the first vehicles in line because your ass WILL get run over! Period! That is all ….”
A police officer from Overland Park, Kansas was fired for threatening comments posted on Facebook. “We’ll see how much her life matters soon,” he commented on a photo that LaNaydra Williams of Dallas, Texas, posted of her 5-year-old daughter, India, back in 2014. “Better be careful leaving your info open where she can be found 🙂 Hold her close tonight it’ll be the last time,” he wrote.
Another post reflects the mounting tension between law enforcement officers and local African-American communities, adding to the increasing distrust of police. “Can someone please explain to me how I’m supposed to teach my son and daughter to respect the police when I see this on social media!!” Antwan Steele, a teaching assistant at Ohio Media School in Whitehall, asked in a Facebook post featuring a screenshot of a police sergeant’s status that read “PUMP THE BRAKES, MONKEYS!”
A Chadbourn, N.C., police officer was fired after stirring up controversy with a post made on Facebook. He was terminated for violating the law enforcement code of ethics and for actions unbecoming an officer. The post content is captured in this tweet:
The officer was also involved in an incident three years ago where he and another officer posted videos while on duty that were said to be offensive.
“It’s scary, to be honest with you; it’s scary. We’ve got police riding through here every day, and people don’t know what to do, if we should hold our hands up or put their hands down, you know? It’s very sad,” Lena Stephens, a Chadbourn resident, told the news station.
With the increasing number of these cases, police chiefs are recognizing the need for policy, guidance, and training to protect officers online as well as their organizations.
Police Chief Thomas K. Casady of Lincoln, Nebraska, began to issue social networking guidance to agency employees as early as 2007. He urged employees to use a “front-page newspaper test.” Do not put anything in a report, letter, memo, email, blog, online post, or any other medium if the content would be embarrassing or discredit the department if published in the local newspaper.
Officers should be cautioned that anything they write, post, tweet, and allow to appear in virtual space may be used against them in court or civil deposition.
People often forget that free speech is not free of consequences. Everyone has a corresponding responsibility for every right we exercise. Unfortunately, some people chose to learn the lesson the hard way.