Top 10 social networking tips for cops
10-03-2009, 03:38 PM
Top 10 social networking tips for cops
Top 10 social networking tips for cops
Dr. Richard Weinblatt Weinblatt's Tips
with Dr. Richard Weinblatt
In the wake of the widely-known “Texas waitress” photos which led to the firing of one Midland County Deputy and the suspension of three others, a look at how online technology has impacted the world of the law enforcement officer is warranted. This is not a new occurrence. Recall the Hoboken, N.J., SWAT team disbanded following “racy” Hooters girl pictures bearing weaponry on police vehicles. By virtue of the Internet’s viral nature, everyone eventually saw the pictures in question.
In this photo provided by the Midland County, (Texas) Sheriff, an unidentified waitress at Twin Peaks Restaurant and Bar posses for a photo in Round Rock, Texas, Aug. 10, 2009. (AP Photo)
Texas sheriff reprimands deputies over waitress picStart-up provides free, secure communications technology for first respondersNixle replaces Twitter and Facebook in PauldingPolice Twittering over new Internet toolFla. cops post video, suspect descriptions on Facebook
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As someone who oversees Basic Police Academies, currently in Ohio and previously in Florida, I have long advised students on the benefits of the wise use of an online persona. While some officers totally bypass any use of online sites in a bid to protect themselves, I view that as throwing the baby out with the bath water. I advocate a more controlled use of those outlets.
I personally make much use of technology having accounts on a variety of social networking Web sites including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Blogger, and Linkedin among others. I have for many years, including when I served as a police chief, with no negative consequences.
These are useful tools for personal and professional networking and communication, but like any tool — such as a firearm or a TASER — can be abused. It is the professional officer who knows how to use these technology tools responsibly and in accordance with departmental policies and community morals who gets the benefits. It’s the officer who ignores policies — and common sense — who gets in trouble.
Many officers have forfeited an otherwise promising career for a few moments of posting euphoria. While other folks may garner only a chuckle in response to their online adventures, a professional law enforcer is held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens. But bear in mind that even in the private sector, many an employee has been sent packing by an employer unhappy over some social networking misstep.
From the advent of digital photography to omnipresent social networks like Facebook, the phenomenal growth of technological innovation has had an incredible impact on many aspects of law enforcement. Here are some tips for using the new online social networking tools without sacrificing your career.
1) No gun glorification. While this may upset Second Amendment supporters out there, the reality is that a significant number of the public does not like to see a glorification of firearms in pictures of law enforcers. Quite a few officers have lost their jobs after posing with weaponry in a way perceived as offensive or too “warrior oriented.”
While the depiction of guns in the course of their normal scope and use is not problematic, aiming the gun at the camera seems to trigger the pink slip. Shots of officers engaged in their normal course of fire at the gun range have not appeared to bring about a backlash. Posing with weaponry, involving either the officer or (worse yet) a civilian, has historically been problematic for the employee.
2) No alcohol. Officers have also found themselves in the hot seat after posting pictures of them partying and drinking alcohol. Many agencies view this to be contrary to a professional image. Of even more concern is that sometimes others identified in the pictures turn out to be minors in possession of alcohol which opens up another can of issues.
3) Watch your comments. This is an important one. Posted comments on social networking sites are being dragged into legal proceedings especially when use of force is involved. Comments that imply the officer enjoys using force on people, especially certain groups of people, are being seized on by criminal defense and civil plaintiffs attorneys to show the officer had a pre disposition to be physical or has a documented bias against their client.
Be mindful that discussion boards and the like are a public written record of your communication. Like reports and radio dispatch conversations, they can be discovered and frame your actions in a context that you may not like. Much like reports, if you don’t want it dragged into the legal arena, don’t type it online.
4) Avoid bashing the department. Another area that has gotten some officers into trouble — the First Amendment freedom of speech not withstanding — are comments which bash the agency. Depending on how it’s framed, it could open you up to administrative charges and possibly civil liability. More and more bloggers and online posters are being held responsible for their critical speech online. Especially if it is later proved that the postings lack a factual basis and are intended to damage the target of the criticism.
At the very least, launching such a site or contributing to an existing Web site that bashes the agency does not endear you to the powers that be or position you as a “team player” ripe for promotion.
5) Restrict personal information. Much like we can use Facebook and the like as a tool to find people and research information, so can the bad guys. Be judicious in the posting of information and pictures. For example, some officers will not use pictures of their family members or going even further, of themselves. Others withhold their cell phone number.
6) Picture Choice. Make sure that the pictures that you do choose to post don’t have any of the aforementioned problem areas or have nudity. Many officers, including myself, have shirtless bodybuilding or fitness oriented photos online. That is not a problem. The topless woman drinking at the party with you exemplifies what is a problem.
7) Minimize status update complaints. In this year of economic contraction, there are many people waiting in line for your spot in the agency. Administrators know this. This goes back to number four above, but we’ve all seen the officers that post their status with complaints about the shift, their sergeant, or the job. Some supervisors, after reading such negatively tinged status updates, say, “OK, let so and so find another job if they are so unhappy here.”
While not every job is going to be great each and everyday, gripes should not be aired via status updates. The agency may be perfectly happy to find someone else that would appreciate them.
8) Highlight accomplishments. Many look to Facebook, Linkedin, and the like as electronic resumes. Take advantage of that and use it to highlight your professional accomplishments. Post pictures of you learning some new technique (being careful not to show scores or other information). Post status updates of that advanced training course you take.
9) Manage your privacy settings. While I have my online presence open to the public, many have privacy settings that restrict access to family and friends that you have predetermined. While not foolproof, the settings should keep most interlopers locked out of your pages.
10) When in doubt, leave it out. I have long coached academy students and officers to pretend that I am perched on their shoulder and watching what they are doing. In the same vein, they could have their mother hovering overhead. If you wouldn’t want us to see it or if either of us would be displeased with what is being contemplated to go online, it probably is not a good idea to upload it.
Dr. Richard B. Weinblatt is a criminal justice educator, former police chief, police media commentator and an instructor in multiple disciplines. He is Florida Criminal Justice Standards certified in general law enforcement topics, firearms, defensive tactics, and vehicle operations, as well as holding instructor certifications for Taser, pepper spray, and expandable baton. He holds the Certified Law Enforcement Trainer (CLET) designation from the American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET).
Weinblatt is Director of the Institute for Public Safety at Central Ohio Technical College near Columbus, OH. He previously was professor and program manager for the Criminal Justice Institute at Seminole Community College in Sanford, FL. Dr. Weinblatt has worked in several regions of the country in reserve and full-time sworn positions ranging from auxiliary police lieutenant in New Jersey to patrol division deputy sheriff in New Mexico to police chief in North Carolina.
Dr. Weinblatt has written extensively on law enforcement topics since 1990. He had a regular column in Law and Order Magazine for a decade and he has also written for Police, Sheriff, American Police Beat, Narc Officer, and others. Dr. Weinblatt has provided media commentary on police matters for local and national media including MSNBC and CNN HLN.
Dr. Weinblatt earned a Bachelors degree in Administration of Justice, a Master of Public Administration in Criminal Justice, an Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership and a Doctorate of Education.
Weinblatt may be reached through http://www.policearticles.com.
16 Member Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of PoliceOne or its staff.
Posted by LoneWolf1964 on Wednesday, September 30, 2009 08:45 PM Pacific Report Abuse
Good article. A little common sense and discretion can go a very long way........
Posted by jrt6 on Tuesday, September 01, 2009 03:24 AM Pacific Report Abuse
If one thinks that not being on facebook and not having their phone numbers published, not exercising their fourth admendment rights or doing anything some pantywaste PC superliberal would be offended at is somehow going to make them safe from people who want this information to use against them are seriously deluded.
Posted by lpso1006 on Saturday, August 29, 2009 07:16 PM Pacific Report Abuse
When I see comments or content that could get someone into trouble, I let them know about it.
When it's on the page of someone that left a knife in my back, or watched while someone left one in my back, then all bets are off and they can figure it out after they get Ganked by some Attorney.
It's funny, because I have seen quite a few people that have some Bad content, and most are people that left a knife in my back, so they can learn the hard way that what comes around does go around. All I have to do is sit back and do nothing, but wait for the fireworks show.....LOL
Posted by wmccarty on Friday, August 28, 2009 07:19 AM Pacific Report Abuse
P1 is the extent of my " social networking " on-line. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, personal goes on-line, to protect me and my family from shitbags out there. Good rule to follow les you want trouble from others looking to hurt you. Some may call it paranoid but I call it protecting myself, not giving up the right to free speech. Trust no one.
Posted by jc4105 on Friday, August 28, 2009 03:20 AM Pacific Report Abuse
In the matter of online networking sites, common sense should prevail
Posted by paladin on Thursday, August 27, 2009 07:15 AM Pacific Report Abuse
This article is merely a set of recommendations - not a list of commandments - use accordingly. I appreciate the author's perspective as being fairly realistic.
I tend to avoid social networking sites and keep a fairly low online profile. Its a choice I make to protect myself and my family while I'm engaged in this profession. Most folks don't regularly wear body armor either.
The article its not about forfeiting the right to free speech. Its more like a miranda warning to remind you that what you say can and probably will be used against you. Nobody said life was easy.
Posted by kd303 on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 06:20 PM Pacific Report Abuse
I think I can sum it up by what one of my sergeants told me almost 20 years ago: "Don't put your $&!# out on the street." Nobody here's saying you forfeited your rights. The problem is that there are a lot of individuals (bad guys, lawyers, and adminis-traitors) who are out to hurt coppers, and will use anything and everything they can find to trump up a complaint on you. Just use some discretion in how you post as well as what you post...
Posted by tongy605 on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 03:42 PM Pacific Report Abuse
It isn't a matter of getting old, but for many like myself, we grew up with social networking sites and use them for just that, social networking. The most difficult thing I'm facing is trying to hide my identity and protect myself from some public pretender, while still being able to keep in touch with old friends. Facebook has done wonders for me putting me in touch with people that I haven't seen in years, and kept me up on the whereabouts of friends who have moved. I'm by no means complaining, as I knew what I was getting into, but still, its a different world on this side of the badge and its nice to read advice on adapting some of those little things I enjoyed in college to life as an officer.
Posted by kittrells on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 03:40 PM Pacific Report Abuse
I agree with maddog103. But then again, I AM old.
Posted by Survivor32 on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 02:56 PM Pacific Report Abuse
LAST POST FOR THIS SITE: I agree entirely with the above article. In the interest of avoiding saying anything that anyone might take offense at, or criticizing any official or his departments policy; I hereby forfeit my right to free speech on this site. Also, in the interest of avoiding any "civil liability", I declare myself sufficiently intimidated and promise not to respond to any of the threads/articles posted on this site in the future.
Posted by justsaynotoliberalism on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 10:52 AM Pacific Report Abuse
I agree with you maddog103...While in Law Enforcement, I will never have a one of these social neteworking sites.
Posted by tvatodd on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 07:38 AM Pacific Report Abuse
Good article. Thanks.
Posted by splube on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 07:23 AM Pacific Report Abuse
Good advice but... I don't recall surrendering my freedom of speech or any other rights when I swore an oath to defend the Constitution.
Posted by natgator on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 09:22 PM Pacific Report Abuse
I agree with everything above. If I could add a number 11, I would say dont post pictures of evidence, ie drugs, guns, etc etc. That's a great way to get a case tossed if the wrong people get a hold of the picturs.
Posted by datsfubar on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 09:10 PM Pacific Report Abuse
I agree. I must be getting old myself.
Posted by maddog103 on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 06:36 PM Pacific Report Abuse
I have said it before and I'll say it again. Why does anyone, let alone a police officer want to put any personal information online! I just don't get it. I must be getting old!
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