Social media and the police
By Brandon Elliott

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Today, nearly everyone is actively part of some form of online social media, and police officers are no exception. Generally, police officers that take part in online social media are smart about what they post and say online. We all know by now that the Internet can become an open record that anyone can see. Recently I read about four police officers in Irvington, New Jersey who have recently begun composing rap videos and placing them on the Internet. Their most recent music video was comprised of several homophobic slurs, threats of violence on their enemies and displays of departmental badges. Subsequently the Irvington police department administrators were not impressed and have filed internal charges on them for conduct unbecoming a police officer.

INDUSTRY PULSE

Should these officers be subject to disciplinary action?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

In reviewing this case, one must consider the First Amendment and how it applies to a police officer. Citizens of the United State of America are afforded the constitutional right to free speech. But what also must be considered is the fact the individuals in question are police officers. What every police officer must understand is that when hired as a law enforcement officer the public trust and power to seize another man's constitutional rights has been given them. This does not grant the officer special power or more liberties then the average citizen; it in fact takes away many liberties of that individual.

We as police officers live under professional, legal and moral laws that restrict our lives more then any other occupational group in the country. These do not only apply to working hours. The public does not identify being a police officer as an individual's occupation — they identify a police officer as an individual who has power and authority over them within the community. Thus, on- or off-duty, we are always police officers.

The community does not want to see a police officer that is biased towards any one race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. When an officer, on his off-duty time, degrades homosexual persons and portrays himself as a person who behaves in the social manner of a criminal, while displaying his status as a police officer, distrust is created. Even in this day and age the majority of the people in our communities expect our police officers to be role models for young America. They want to trust us. When officers put things like this out on the Internet for the entire world to see it makes them questions that officer's morality on the job, that itself is unbecoming of a police officer. As we have seen it only takes one bad apple to ruin the batch, and in the case of police distrust this is especially true.

Policy should be in place to regulate the officer's use of online social media. If not these issues could arise. Your supervisors should be making sure each of their subordinates understand the policy and understand the consequences of violating public trust. In the event the policy is violated, disciplinary action should be taken. Furthermore, be open and talk to your officers about this issue. Explain to them the reasons behind the policy and the cycle of public distrust their off-duty conduct could create.

Brandon Elliott is a 10-year officer in a busy East Coast resort police department. Brandon has experience in investigations, counter-narcotics, patrol and training. He holds a degree in criminal justice, as well as certifications as a police instructor and field training officer. Brandon is currently the head of his organization's reserve officer program and serves his organization as an FTO.