04/07/11 202 W - + 0 - 3 Police Offices and Social Networking

We've read the stories about firefighters and medics getting in trouble with social networking. Usually, such incidents have involved the posting of inappropriate photos, such as victims at accidents. But imagine the consequences of more subtle actions, such the wording of your job description. For police officers, as this New York Times article reports, describing your job as "human waste disposal" could be entirely embarrassing, as an Albuquerque officer encountered. After he was involved a fatal on-duty shooting in February, a local television discovered his Facebook description. The result? Desk duty for him, new policy for everyone.

Interesting perspective on the effects of personal conduct far and away from the squad car. At least for firefighters and medics, they are rarely being pursued by defense attorneys craving evidence to impeach their testimony. But it's a good lesson for everyone in public safety. Remember the old rule about e-mail? Before hitting send, imagine everyone in the world might read the thing. Apply the same standard to social networking. Will it still square if the highest officials or highest-rated news people are watching? Or have occasion to watch? Apologies in advance for immediately induced states of paranoia...

Cops should absolutely be paranoid about what they post online. As you know, I’m paranoid just about posting on here! You never know when a silly remark you make someplace like this may be taken out of context years later when you’re forced to shoot someone in a scenario that the media portrays it as possibly unjustified, and gets the public all riled up. You’ll smack yourself in the head and say, “but I was just sitting in my living room in my underwear two years ago when I typed that! I didn’t mean anything by it!”

But alas, the “human waste disposal” is already out there for someone to find…
rfburns - 04/08/11 - 21:13

A friend of mine got in trouble up in NYC as a police officer. The first thing the news media found was his myspace site that was not secured. They found comments from movies that were not very professional. The next thing you see in the New York Times was, “Gangster Cop __ doing lines off of a strippers ass.” You always have to watch what you say. Your comments always reflect back to the agency you work for, especially when you work in the public service field. This is the reason anonymous posts are so popular.
Kermit - 04/09/11 - 08:23

Anonymous posts are indeed popular, and certainly do shield the individual poster. But do they sufficiently shield one’s agency? Not necessarily. Any public discussion is a public discussion. In another thread on this blog the other day, someone asked about an investigation at agency. Let’s presume their motivation is base curiosity. I mean, this blog is a collection of like-minded readers and posters. Like firing questions and shooting the sh_t at the station table. “Hey, I heard this happened over there, what’s the deal?” Let’s add lurkers, and perhaps people in the media. Joe or Jane Reporter reads that question, anonymous, and says, wow, something’s happening over at this agency. They sniff a story, and the great machinery of the media is turned in the direction of that agency. Next thing you know, the chief or an official is asking “how the heck did they find out about this?” You take it from there.

Is that a example of anonymous comments nonetheless harming the agency, while in the short-term protecting the individual?

Meta-observation. My description above paints the above scenario as a negative one, or one with negative effects. There are lots of contrary opinions on this. Such as the opinion that public attention (via new coverage) on internal affairs is a good thing. Sunshine, disinfectant, etc. You as taxpayer probably want such things uncovered, to ensure that the publicity helps reinforce the accountability and attitudes to prevent future things from happening. (For those There’s the issue of whistleblowing, and using public forums to call attention to things that workers feel are suppressed. (Or just not being paid attention to. Get on your pulpit and blog anonymously!)

Makes you wonder…. just how seriously do people take these discussions and anonymous comments posted therein?
Legeros - 04/09/11 - 09:09

I painted a worse-case or severe-case example above, but there are many small-scale interactions that can be pondered. (This blog is a great study in behavior and conversation.) Is it helpful or harmful to have public discussions (or even just posed questions) about, say, hearing that someone’s about to be named for a promotion? That approval is about to happen for a project or purchase? That someone’s experienced a personal loss or stressor? And so on. Apologies for the navel-gazing, for those who can’t stand it. As an introspective blog operator, that’s one of the things you think about. How are all conversations making people feel (in addition to what it’s making them think).
Legeros - 04/09/11 - 09:16

I agree with you Mike, Anonymous posts do nothing to shield the blog users agency. I worded the end of my post wrong.
Kermit - 04/09/11 - 11:21

Revisiting this thread, in response to reading about trooper text messages. They were released to local news last night. Reader/citizen reaction is commencing this morning. It’s an interesting twist to the above issues. What happens with public records are requested and released, that reveal communication originally intended to be private? And maybe more importantly, what happens/should happen when personalities and traits therein are revealed through such communication? (I am guessing that general public probably prefers that responders/people in authority act or are portray more saintly than otherwise.)
Legeros - 07/06/11 - 09:13

I don’t believe these are public records. These are text messages between two coworkers on their personal cell phones. I think the only reason they released the texts is because it supports the troopers’ stories, and shows they didn’t conspire to stop the husband.

Regarding the viewer comments on WRAL, I may be an optimist, but I truly believe the vocal minority on there does not represent the general public. I’ve seen less cop-haters at a gangsta rap concert…
rfburns - 07/06/11 - 10:14

I want to know why WRAL hasn’t released the video from the Wrightsville police station yet? Oh I know why because of how far to the left they are. A greenville news station released it a few days ago. It shows how polite the trooper was and then goes on to show the husband lying on camera. Great stuff
Mike - 07/06/11 - 12:52

Thanks Burns. That makes sense, personal not public messages. Good thing responders are exempt from our state’s new TWD laws!
Legeros - 07/06/11 - 19:18

Ha… I don’t know of any officers that have ever had a NEED to text while driving. I don’t know if maybe the public safety personnel exception to that rule is to make sure it isn’t applied to officers using computers in the cars… Or maybe, some departments that don’t have in-car computers use texting over cells in the same way I would use the in-car computer.
rfburns - 07/06/11 - 19:56

Remember personal info?

/ Textile

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