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Emailing, Texting, Social Networking and Other Ways to Screw Up Your Career

Emailing, Texting, Social Networking and Other Ways to Screw Up Your Career

Sgt Betsy Brantner Smith

Twelve years ago I got my first departmental email address and thought it was the coolest and most comprehensive electronic communication tool that I would ever use or need. I also assumed it was completely private, belonged only to me and that when I hit “delete” it went away forever. For an oldster who was born prior to 1960, I’ve learned an awful lot since then. These days I don’t hesitate to text, tweet, friend and blog my way around the Internet from the comfort of my phone, my PC or my tiny little netbook, but I also know that whatever I say, type or post is out there for all of humanity to see.

Surfing the Web. I didn’t own a personal computer until about 1998, but as a sergeant I had one on my desk at work. The officers also had to PC’s available to them throughout the city and when we were finally given access to the Internet, it was a free-for-all. The very first phrase I ever entered into a World Wide Web search box was “women police”. In addition to learning all about the history of female cops and the associations available for me to join, I saw Web site after Web site of really hot young women wearing nothing but a fake gun belt or a police hat, really red lipstick, and doing pretty intimate things with, well, everybody. Wow! I had no idea. But I quickly learned how to refine my searches, block pop-ups, and use my Internet access primarily for good, not evil. However, pretty soon throughout the agency we had increasing incidents of Internet abuse, from printing out images from “inappropriate” websites to spending most of the workday on Ebay, so our department, like many others, cracked down on employee use of the Internet. Visiting sites like PoliceLink and the Officer Down Memorial Page are a good officer use of technology; shopping for a new car, playing online poker, or visiting other inappropriate sites are not. The bottom line? Use your head, think ethically, and be reasonable. Unless you work in the computer crimes unit, you’re not being paid to surf the ‘net.

An email is forever. I learned this the hard way many, many times over. Just as it is with officer survival, when we’re talking about “career survival,” learning from the mistakes of others is key. It all began when law enforcement started using in-car computers with mobile data transmitters, or MDTs. The public outrage over the beating of career criminal Rodney King by the LAPD was the exacerbated by racially tainted car-to-car MDT traffic. Most cops learned (or should have learned) right then and there that if it can’t be said over the radio, don’t say it over the computer. There is also no such thing as an anonymous computer transmission or email. If you are using your departmental email you are probably signing on to a network of some sort. All of your transmissions are captured and can be recalled. Even if you use your personal email address from a departmental computer, everything you do online will be available for review by your employer. Many police agencies have very strict policies regarding Internet and email use, including flagging certain “inappropriate” words used in the body of an email, not allowing attachments, and tracking a user’s amount of time spent online. Know what your department policies are and again, be logical. Don’t send out a shift-wide email calling the chief a “spineless pinhead” unless you’re willing to explain to his face why you feel that way and suffer the consequences. Remember that emails can become part of the record keeping of an investigation or an incident and can be used in court, and that any email you send out, even if it’s from home on your personal account can be forwarded, printed, and otherwise widely distributed; don’t hit “send” if you think anything you’ve put in that email can back to bite you.

What would we do without texting?! Less than two years ago, I barely understood what “texting” was; now I can’t imagine life without it. As a patrol supervisor, texting was invaluable during our shift. We used it for everything from critical incident updates to deciding where to meet for coffee to silently sharing information while handing a domestic dispute. Police investigators can use a bad guy’s text messages to follow their conversations, identify and prove intent, and even track their whereabouts. Simplistically put, text messages travel either via cell phone lines or the Internet, so like email they do not really disappear even when you hit “delete.” They are also easily saved and even more easily forwarded, so be cautious what you are texting about and who you are sending texts to; they might someday be used against you, legally, professionally or both.

Social networking and Internal Affairs. There are so many social networking sites out there, from Facebook to MySpace to Twitter. There are also professional networking sites, like Plaxo and LinkedIn, and sites just for law enforcement such as PoliceLink. Regardless of what site or sites you choose to participate in, DO NOT post, comment or blog about anything that you wouldn’t want your chief, your sheriff or your grandmother to see. Think ahead; you may be in high school or college now, but eventually prospective employers are going to take a look at your social networking sites. Or you may be a young police officer enjoying your job in patrol, but posting those pictures of your college buddy’s drunken bachelor party on your Facebook aren’t going to impress your deputy chief, especially when you take that sergeant’s promotional exam in a few years. You also have to be careful who you “friend” or who “friends” you, and who you communicate with, even on a “police only” site. You always have to be mindful of how very anonymous the Internet really is, and you also have to accept that even your “secure” profile page probably isn’t. And even if you don’t post stupid stuff on your own site, others may have photos or video of you or they may attribute statements or actions to you on their own sites that are going to land you in the Internal Affairs office.

So much to blog about, so little time. Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of easy-to-use software, anyone can have his or her own Web site and/or blog. Blogging can be a great way to share information, but so many people use it to electronically vent, whine, or complain. If you’re a blogger, just keep in mind that your blog is public information and can be interpreted many different ways. Even if your blog has nothing to do with police work, if you make comments that would discredit you or the agency, you may have a big problem.

The World Wide Web and all the technology that goes with it can make our jobs and our lives so much easier, but we also have to think about how and what we put out on the Internet and on our cell phones may affect our personal reputation, the reputation of our agency, and sometimes even the honor of our profession.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Good article.

  • Belgian-malinois-picture_max50


    over 4 years ago


    good article.i tried to pass this along to my classmates when i was in blet. be aware at all times online.

  • Pic-0239_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Getting caught on a non-work websites, being on personal calls or texts during work hours(unless it's an emergency) can result in termination where I work. It's kinda common sense nowadays, maybe not 15 years ago. Since we're a hospital we have tight online security, but all our keystrokes can be pulled up at anytime. Act as if your being watched at all times, like they used to tell us in Catholic School about

  • 309


    over 4 years ago


    Our department just included in their policy that using facebook while at work was prohibited.

  • Cb46b4bfa58cfbd6_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Very well written article. I have seen many officers compromise their career by posting pictures of their weekend on Facebook or via text messages. We must always remember we are under the public microscope. Just because we share these things with friends, doesn't mean our friends won't share them with their friends and so on.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    Online business opportunities are all over the web and most of them are get rich quick schemes that don't work. A lot of people including myself have lost certain amounts of money trying to make honest money by using the internet. perfume for men

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    I think this is interesting important information to keep in mind. So would you like to explain a good place where we could enjoy our selves with out an problems?

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Its an open social network that should be used but with very close watch. If you have a secret or a beff this is not the place for it. I like this article and as a former Information Specialist from the old school...If it is on the net beware.

  • N757696374_1199763_7099_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Good to know current information that any college student needs to know ic me.

  • 14600_10200352713679693_171098802_n_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    i think of it like this if you dont want your children to see it or read it then dont type it or say it !!! end of story for me thanks for this article !

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    Excellent reminders for all professionals and would-be professionals...parents, get the idea. I personally have been surprised from mildly to aghast by the thoughtless posts made by some otherwise intelligent officers. And to be candid; those sorts of post begin to nibble at my estimation of their integrity as professionals and as individuals. I like to think that a good police officer sets the standard in both for others to strive for. Idealistic? You bet; ideals are what it's all about.

  • 45089_396847393722850_1055776862_n_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Great article. I think most of us can learn from it.

  • Pisilhouette_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Great Heads-up. I've actrually been thinking of this as well. Nowadays most of us have a Facebook or Myspace, and like many I'm sure we don't go over who it is we are actually befriending when we accept them. So I suggest before you go fully into LE you go thoroughly through your friends list(hopefully you don't have to many, but that's a laugh) and check out who it is you are "friends" with. I myself will have to take this advice someday when I get to where I'm going. You may not believe in the things your "friends" are standing for, but it'll still reflect on you.

  • Snapshot_e_max50


    over 5 years ago


    thanks for the advise

  • Me_max50


    over 5 years ago


    great info to keep in mind!

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