Monday, April 23, 2012

The Pitfalls of Social Networking

We've written before about the benefits of Facebook for police departments.  However, private Facebook profiles can have some pretty detrimental consequences for officers (police, fire, and EMS) if they are not careful.

Cases of inappropriate Facebook conduct by officers can be seen throughout Facebook and the news.  One of the most high profile lately is that of (now former) Secret Service Agent David Chaney.  He posted a photo of himself guarding Sarah Palin.  Had it stopped there, there would have been nothing inappropriate about the post.  However, he then proceeded to mention that he was "really checking her out."  Because this photograph was taken of him while he was in the course of performing his duties, it was grossly inappropriate to make a comment like that.  At the time, he probably thought nothing of it and figured it would be humorous to his friends.  However, when combined with the high profile Columbian prostitute scandal, his personal Facebook page has quickly become a national sensation.  It even forced him to resign from the Secret Service.

In 2011, a gang unit officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico got into some hot water for his listed occupation on Facebook.  Again, due to what was probably a lapse in judgement, Officer Trey Economidy listed his profession as "human waste disposal."  Again, no one noticed until something happened.  Officer Economidy was involved in what was ruled to be a clean on duty suspect shooting.  However, reporters found the comment on his Facebook page which forced the department to reprimand him.  He was placed on temporary desk duty and then reassigned to out of the gang unit.

A brief Google search of inappropriate police comments will yield pages of news articles depicting inappropriate pictures, comments, and actions being posted by the officers themselves.  Comments that have nothing to do with work or that are made in a completely joking manner can be completely misread by others, landing the officers in a great deal of trouble.

Mark A. Marshall, chief of police in Smithfield, Va., and the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said, "This is something that all the police chiefs around the country, if you’re not dealing with it, you better deal with it."  The content placed on Facebook (or any other social networking website) has the capacity to not just make the officer involved look bad, but it can place a detrimental view on the entire department.

So, how do you protect both yourself and your department?

  1. Think about what you are posting online.  Might it offend your mother, wife, coworkers, or chief?
  2. Remember that once it is on the internet, there is no getting it back!  It takes only a second for someone to do a screen print and capture an image of your statement or photo.  Even if you realize it was in bad taste and delete it, that screen capture is always there.
  3. Keep comments about officer locations to yourself.  This is particularly important when referring to undercover officers and those wounded/killed in action.  Keeping that information private is vital to the safety of the officer and their family.
  4. If in doubt, pictures of yourself in uniform (or with your cruiser) with scantily clad women is probably a bad idea.  So is making comments about how a suspect 'deserved it' or anything that makes you sound as though you don't follow proper policing procedures.
  5. Have a private Facebook page.  With appropriate Facebook settings, the only people who can view your posts and pictures are your friends.  
  6. Most importantly, know that people are watching!  This is particularly true when you find yourself in the middle of an incident... because if there is something to find, people will find it!
Although these ideas might seem silly and insignificant to you, they probably seem like pretty good advice to officers who have lost their jobs, been forced to resign, been reassigned, or had a case thrown out of court because of something they stupidly posted on the internet.


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