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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.







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  • Photo_user_blank_big

    josmoren

    over 4 years ago

    220 Comments

    I've seen lots of people lose job oppurtunities because of Myspace or Facebook. I've seen realtionships end because of them. All invaluable information.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    cplcodep

    over 4 years ago

    4 Comments

    one should listen to this even if they are not law enforcement!

  • American_flag_max50

    APD108

    over 4 years ago

    76 Comments

    Very good article

  • L_f3150d_max50

    Jima

    over 4 years ago

    70 Comments

    Great article! This is very true for everyone. I agree that an officers "off-time" is just that, his off-time, he/she should be able to do what-ever they want! Just remember, we are always under the microsope of the publics eye, and the public is quick to find a flaw!

  • American_first_responder2_max50

    trooperman911

    over 4 years ago

    2544 Comments

    BUMP: I agree with what Dr. Richard Weinblatt had to say on this article.

  • 71476_max50

    scottydl

    over 4 years ago

    80 Comments

    An officer's business IS his/her own when off-duty, however I still believe that how an officer acts in their personal life can and will affect how they act in their professional duties. Everyone in law enforcement needs to know that ALL their actions (on or off duty) will be scrutinized and affect their professionalism and public perception. We have maintain a high moral character and prove that we are worthy of being in this line of work.

  • Title8enforcer_sq90_max50

    Chiefbparker

    over 4 years ago

    604 Comments

    As the Chief, many cases of abuse abuse were reported, this is a good article for all to heed.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    agentward

    over 4 years ago

    4 Comments

    Great article. I'm glad I read this now before it becomes to late.

  • Dsc00729_max50

    jason63601

    over 4 years ago

    14 Comments

    great article

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 4 years ago

    Great article

  • Me_max50

    akaray

    almost 5 years ago

    258 Comments

    Great info

  • Large_security_enforcement_officer_badge_max50

    SEO

    almost 5 years ago

    444 Comments

    This is an EXCELLENT work. I really wish more people took these things into consideration when they spend their time online. Thank you

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 5 years ago

    Great article!!!! It is sooo true, no matter what you do on the office computer the IT dept can track it in more ways than you think!!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    swatj10

    almost 5 years ago

    760 Comments

    Hey thanks for the tip

  • Sany1146_max50

    Ozarkwoods

    almost 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    Awesome article on the use of computer and other electronics. All of it straight on.

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