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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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    NewYork911

    almost 5 years ago

    1672 Comments

    Take heed to this article. Many young LEO's just do not think before they type. I have found this more and more of a trend in the past few years. Good artice.

  • My_kids_027_max50

    grant319

    almost 5 years ago

    1208 Comments

    Guys I have seen officers transferred and a couple fired because of the internet, all I can say is be very careful

  • Phone_pics_035_max50

    cgregor12

    almost 5 years ago

    3026 Comments

    Fantastic article and very true...

  • Tn_max50

    HCSO531

    almost 5 years ago

    248 Comments

    Great article, to bad we will loose some good officers over the internet. We have already lost one for posting pictures on Myspace

  • Uni1_max50

    Deli734

    almost 5 years ago

    410 Comments

    Great article

  • Spartan_cops_max50

    Lawful_Blue

    almost 5 years ago

    1184 Comments

    Nice article Sergeant, thanks for giving us young guns a heads up!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    bikecop45

    almost 5 years ago

    206 Comments

    As an investigator, I enjoyed reading your article, "Emailing, Texting, Social Networking and Other Ways to Screw Up Your Career". I like the social networking sites; phishing for valuable information, be it evidence proof analysis, documentation or locating persons and their family members, has all been made faster and better by these sites. Thanks again for the article.

    Ken
    bikecop45

  • 001_max50

    lowery

    almost 5 years ago

    52 Comments

    SO TRUE!!! SO MANY GOOD COPS GET CAUGHT UP ON THE INTERNET AND JEPERDIZE THEIR CAREER FOR NOTHING.

  • Peace

    pc341352u

    almost 5 years ago

    2570 Comments

    AWESOME............!!! A LOT of information all in one place!!!

  • Th_detective_max50

    Retleo

    almost 5 years ago

    5524 Comments

    Too bad that there are many here on PL who have not read this article and continue to post inappropriate comments and pictures all over the site. Your "On-Line" profiles and activities are now an integral part of LE background investigations,,,,,,so beware and be warned!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    tgrady2

    almost 5 years ago

    4 Comments

    Thanks Sgt.Smith, but i do need some help with a SOP for the use of MDTs in patrol vehicles, im trying toput a SOP together for my department, if you have an example that i could use would be grateful, Thanks Sgt.Grady

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 6 years ago

    Thanks for the excellent advice. How many times have we seen a brother or sister fall into "What's happening?" after years of dedicated hardwork only to watch it go down the toilet with a "flippant' word or demeanor. When I travel the web. I try to leave the internet better than some of the places I realized were not the real thing. A good thumb of rule is to say "Do I really need this.?" or "Is it worth throwing my life and my trusting family out on the curb side. Give us all discernment and know that there is a time and place for everyting under the sun." I love humor and sometimes think that others do too. But some people have learned valuable lessons of what is acceptable and what goes over the 'TOP" Bless you for the motivating lessons. Lives are saved because we must learn to stop and do critical assement and make wise choices. There's a lot of distraction out there...****

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    almost 6 years ago

    Good advice, Sgt. Smith. So many forget that the MDT is a tool for work related communications only and is subject to monitoring. This goes along with use of official telephones and department computers. Why risk your career and possibly family with inappropriate comments or posts?

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    about 5 years ago

    I really like how you put everything you said to be completely understood especially like me I'm so blunt and really only being me but what you said makes so much since,thanks for the lesson.God Bless

  • Me__mr

    cgingo

    about 5 years ago

    21964 Comments

    Excellent. I too have learned these valuable lessons over the past few years. I try to tell all my trainees the same.

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