On June 19, 2019, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced that seventy two (72) officers were being “removed from the street,” following the Plain View Project. PVP is a database which contains public Facebook posts and comments from current and former police officers.
PVP claimed it had uncovered more than 300 racist, sexist and/or biased Social Media posts by the city’s police officers. The analysis further alleged that at least 328 active-duty officers posted troubling content.
They claimed that the posts celebrated acts of violence among immigrants and black people accused of committing crimes. Some posts contained long, hate-filled exchanges which appeared to involve multiple officers.
Another Philadelphia media outlet attributed some of the posts to high-ranking members of the department, including a police inspector, six captains and eight lieutenants!
BLOWING OFF STEAM
Sometimes, it is easy to empathize with a police officer’s need to tell someone about their job. Having appropriate, healthy outlets for the horror show we witness while on the job is critical.
It is also important for police officers to understand that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are NOT the proper forums for people working in Law Enforcement to spout-off. Social networking for those of us in law enforcement means: keep 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.
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We must be mindful that plenty of people comb through Facebook for any hint of officer misconduct. In a sense, this is a good thing. Corruption in law enforcement should be eliminated as quickly as possible.
COVERING YOUR BUTT
Armed with that knowledge, most cops are painfully aware that regular, hardworking police officers must be proactive when it comes to keeping their on-line reputations clean.
A Columbus [MS] firefighter, Brad Alexander, post an opinion on his personal Facebook page. His statement condemned a Columbus mother after her two-year-old son was struck by a pickup truck. Alexander’s post allegedly stated the child was unattended and questioned the whereabouts of the child’s mother.
A controversy erupted, largely due to the contributions of Alexander’s first-responder colleagues. Firefighter Damon Estes, Firefighter Eric Minga and Police Officer Lance Luckey hit “LIKE” after reading Alexander’s post. So, “What’s wrong with that?” you ask.
At the time of this incident, neither department the fire department nor the police department had a social media policy.
RULES, RULES AND MORE RULES
As we all now know, numerous police departments have them in place now.
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. 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 on-line 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 police officer Luckey for 30 days for “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 a seventeen-year veteran Elgin [IL] Officer Jason Lentz. Officer Lentz was fired a few years ago after posting on his Facebook account. The subject was Ferguson, Missouri’s eighteen year-old Michael Brown: “Innocent victim my ass. [He] did society a favor.”
The Elgin Police Department said Jason Lentz’s Facebook post about the shooting violated the department’s policy governing officers’ social media use. Lentz was told to remove posts that referred to any/all events in Ferguson, Missouri.
Police officials said Lentz did not remove the posts. He only edited them, and therefore did not obey the order of a commander. As of October 2015, an arbitrator sustained the officer’s discipline but changed the penalty. Instead of being terminated, the arbitrator determined Lentz should have been suspended for six months.
THINK BEFORE YOU ‘CLICK’
My personal thoughts on this are simple: You must ask yourself: Am I willing to endure a six month suspension – or worse – lose your job over a Facebook post? Whether we like it or not, police officers are held to higher standards than John Q. Public.
There is a bull’s-eye always on our backs.
Numerous groups that hate police officers along with defense attorneys are watching our every move. They will go through anything you post with a fine-toothed comb. That includes any time you “LIKE” something, as well.
Be extra careful of pictures that an attorney can use to question your testimony or get your case thrown out as well.
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.
Everything you post on any Social Media site is admissible in a court of law.
Facebook posts can be used you in court by an ex-spouse, an angry family member or a neighbor whose car you might have damaged. Like it or not, Social Media content is now part and parcel of most court proceedings.
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Next time you’re at court, ask a criminal defense lawyer about how they use on-line postings. Social Media is a wonderful asset for gathering evidence to be used against an officer charged with any offense.
How many officers are you “FRIENDS” with on Facebook who post pictures and stories from their tours 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 on one of the Social Media platforms.
Every time you post a comment or LIKE a random photo, know that it may reflect negatively on the image of you or your agency. My uncle is a retired “old school” officer. He told me, “No cop is impressed with officers posting work stories on social media!”
My question is, are you?
At the end of the day, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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