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Are Officers Crossing the Line Online?

Are Officers Crossing the Line Online?

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Detroit Free Press via YellowBrix

September 27, 2010

DETROIT – Metro Detroit police officers are among many public servants who maintain private lives on the Internet.

On Facebook, they post photos, tag friends and change status updates. On Twitter, they post plans, thoughts or locations.

But depending on what they write or post, an officer could be breaking confidentiality, undermining an investigation, or worse — potentially violating someone’s constitutional rights, said Detroit Police Second Deputy Chief Michael Falvo. That’s not to mention possibly embarrassing the department, he added.

The what-ifs are forcing police departments to consider policies for an ever-evolving Internet.

“We’re in constant defense about it,” said Auburn Hills Police Chief Doreen Olko. “It’s not practical to forbid it, but what you hear on the job, see on the job, you leave it there. Now the lines are getting blurrier.”

Although Olko hasn’t had a breach yet, she said she worries about officers posting photos of themselves in uniform, posting information that shares an opinion, or being seen in a way that compromises the credibility of the officer or the department. Within her force of 53 sworn officers, she estimates that half have a Facebook page. It’s a hot topic among department heads, she said.

“Police are privy to lots of information,” she said. “Social media is just a whole new thing.”

But social media can hurt an active career — and stop one before it starts.

Southfield Police Chief Joseph Thomas said the Facebook status update of one young recruit — “I can’t wait to get a gun and kick some ass” — ended his chances of getting an offer from the department.

“Do we want that mentality on the streets of Southfield?” he said.

Dealing with social media is now a training topic departments can pursue, said Randolph Skotarczyk, chief of Harper Woods police. The department has no explicit social media policy.

He likened dealing with Facebook and other social media to the early days of camera phones, when the ethical dilemma was about photos on personal hardware.

“The tendency is to put so much up there,” he said of social media sites. “You think the communication is only with friends, but it’s with everyone.”

Warren Police Chief William Dwyer said, so far, the department has not had issues with Facebook.

The department does not have a specific social media policy.

Anything that’s considered evidence is to stay within the department, whether physically or through the Internet. Dwyer, a former Detroit police officer, said the lesson that nothing is private was well-learned through the text message scandal involving former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

“It’s not a private thing now,” he said of communication.

That is why Auburn Hills Officer Jeramey Peters monitors his personal page. He wants to be sure the people he serves professionally don’t have access to his family through social networking.

“It’s easy to go onto Facebook and post photos. There’s no control,” he said.

Shelby Township Police Chief Robert Leman said the department’s policy also is more general; evidence and photographs are not allowed outside the department.

The Dearborn Police Department doesn’t have a policy specific to social media, but generally requires no information be released without the chief’s approval, said Lt. Anthony Mencotti.

“Even if the most benign scene was posted on Facebook, there would be serious consequences,” he said.

  • 1410_max50


    over 3 years ago


    Because of numerous online transgressions of officers at my department, we had to take online training on the proper use of social networks. I will admit, some go overboard.

  • Car6_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I could see the possible problems...

  • Snoopy-cool_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I have a facebook and it's really clean with nothing negative on it. I don't put up anything that I wouldn't want my 91 year old grandma to read. I am putting out my applications after the first of the year and I still worry about whether I should shut it down completely. Some of my police officer friends have profile pics in uniform and I don't think that's a good thing. If just having a facebook will keep me out of a job, then I'll shut it down.

  • 101101_162533_53_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    cowatchu: I am *already* a police officer. My department considers me to be throughly vetted and approved to carry a badge and gun with their full blessing. Furthermore, they trust my conduct enough to choose me to find new officers. For the records, the checking of social networking sights is a very common practices among backgrounders in my area. And after I'm done checking over their page, blog, twitter....or whatever it may be, the very first thing I caution that potential officer to do is lock it down as privately as they can manage, and never ever ever advertise themself as a potential or current officer.
    The first thing you better know when you apply for a police job is that your privacy, until you pass background, is out the window. My department trust me to be confidential with the information I learn during those investigations. I will NOT put my name on an approved background until I feel I have dug through every deep dark closet you may have for skeletons. I do NOT want to put a potential officer on the street who could be compromised in their judgment or later testimony. Don't really care whether you think it's "fair"...that's the way it is.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    ANY cop who dabbles in ANY on-line community, be it facebook or anything else is looking for trouble, whether intended or not. Who knows what a friend will pass along from a "private" conversation to someone else, intentional or not? Facebook, Twitter and other such programs may be okay for the department to disseminate information to the public, but do you really want your private life out there for all to see? You young cops, close it down and talk to your friends if you want. That's what adults do anyway. Have conversations with each other face to face.

  • Photo-ffadult-r40-s3-176814363_64099_54534777_superphoto_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Its kinda like having phone numbers of girls or other stuff like that in your pocket note book and being on the stand testifying about a case and being asked to show it to the defense lawyer. No one wants that oh shot moment while at work or in court. So our agency does not allow you to post any pictures from work, you being in uniform etc. Its kinda a common sense thing for now. But what allways happens is someone does something stupid and we all have to pay for there mistake.

  • Memorialbadge_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    This is as close to facebook as I get. I dont have anything else. I do this on purpose. I have posted a couple comments that raised an eyebrow and try to watch that type of thing. However, my inner smartellic pops its quick witted head every once in a while.

  • Mt_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Don't post anything you don't want your mother to see! More and more IAD investigations are a result of what's being posted on the internet.

  • Lady_jessie_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    There is a catchall caveat that has been out there for years and years:

    "...conduct unbecoming."

    I've been telling y'all this for as long as PL has been around.

    The walls have ears and the night has a thousand eyes.

  • Justice-400_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    The Washiongton state Department of Corrections has a policy prohibiting CO's from posting photos of themselves in uniform. A CO has been fired in recent years for doing just that. I don't think it's unreasonable. Agencies have an image to protect, and it's not exactly portraying a good image when your officer posts a picture of himself in uniform right next to the picture of him taking a keg stand. I think a certain level of common sense goes with using facebook and being a public servant. I've been an EMT for four years though and had facebook for about two years, and not once have I felt compelled to put a picture of myself up on facebook in my work uniform. Partially because I don't think it's appropriate, partially because I look like a tool in my uniform lol

  • Crumb_passin_thru_02_1__max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Another thing to realize is appropriate PERSEC isn't just for LEOs. Everyone should have the presumption that they are entitled to their privacy. Don't let anyone feed you this "if you've got nothing to hide" line. Any information you put on the Internet has the potential to escape your control--remember that.

  • Funny_pictures_56616_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    QQ.........their watching

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    Well put.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    The Chiefs are right. Putting a picture of yourself on the Internet in uniform is very unwise. I know you are proud to be in the career field of LEO. But use common sense people. You are some of the best trained people in the United States. Act like it. GOD gave you two ears and one mouth. There is a reason for this. Think before you act. You will live longer and so will your family. Always be professional at all times, even when off duty. You are 24/7 Peace Officers. It is your duty. Now, get out there and be safe.

  • Radio2_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I have some friends and family ask me why I don't post pictures of myself in uniform and post where I work at.. The reasons are due to COMSEC and OPSEC... plus, I really don't want everyone knowing where I live..

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