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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.

  • Me__mr


    over 5 years ago


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

  • Photo_user_banned_big


    over 5 years ago


    Totally agree

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    Just remember, Things you put out on the web site, can sometimes help you. But then they can also come back on you years later on down the road. If you can't back it up don't say it.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago

    DTaclnstructor...GREAT point!! Great reminder for all of us...

  • 464621_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Wow! Thankyou

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    Very well put Sarge. Also, like the article reads, remember that posts to sites like these are also out there for people to see and USE against us. Be careful of what you post even to the LEO EXCLUSIVE sites. There are plenty of former and/or retired cops who now work for dark side in order to get more $$MONEY$$!! So, when you post a comment like, "Good to see that suspect got what he deserves!" or "Glad see the suspect was taken out!" can come back to haunt you. If you want to support your comrades and comment how nice it is that they survived the fight and went home at the end of the shift, there's better ways of creatively expressing it. Be SMART and safe out there!

  • Vcrime_fighters_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Thumbs up on the article!

  • Jen1_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Very true... I just started the process for applying to PDs and I removed my myspace completely. It was a useless tool that I hadn't really used since I was in the early time of college.

  • Caduceus_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Excellent article. It is always a good thing to see reminders such as this.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago

    This should be required reading for this site, especially for thoses cleared to have the little gold badge on their profiles. Like I always say, be careful how much of an ass you make of yourself on the net...someones going to see it...

  • Rscn0165_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Very good article. One we should all take to heart.

  • Img_2238_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Great article and reminder for us all. Many young kids need to take this at heart.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    I'm pretty addicted to facebook. I was (sort of) smart and added my supervisors and administrators as friends, as a way to police myself. If I don't want the public to see it, I probably wouldn't want my bosses to see, so it keeps me in line, even if they think I am a little weird :). We recently had an officer have his private facebook profile hacked by the sex offender that is suing him. He was mentioned in an anti-LE/government blog as enjoying chains and whips and how that is a heinous crime that he is not being punished for. Watching what you say and do should not be limited to the internet either. I'm a Probation/Parole Officer. Between the offenders that I supervise, the ones that I have had incidental comments and the families of those people, I never know who is around me that is listening to my words and watching my behavior. We should be representing ourselves, and by extension our departments, well. My mom said it best: "If you wouldn't want your sweet little grandmother to see or hear it, don't do it."

  • Drtlogo_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Great reminder to all - the written word, regardless of medium, is forever!

  • Honorvalor_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Good article..

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