California Police Chief- Fall 2013 CPCA_2019_Spring Magazine- FINAL - Page 29

Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships of this department for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among coworkers, or negatively affect the public perception of the department. accounts would be wise to stick to personal opinions, thoughts, or whatever they are comfortable sharing on social media. The problem is when the two overlap. I have seen far too many police chiefs, command staff, and line level personnel who have “non-professional” or personal social media accounts blur these lines when they do things like this: Their twitter handle contains their rank (e.g. @ ChiefJones_PD) AND As public employees, department personnel are cautioned that speech on or off-duty, made pursuant to their official duties, “that is, that owes its existence to the employee's professional duties and responsibilities, "is not protected speech under the First Amendment and may form the basis for discipline if deemed detrimental to the department. Department personnel should assume that their speech and related activity on social media sites will reflect upon their position and this department. Their profile photos or posts show them in uniform or portray their department patch, badges, or logos They post official incident information from their “non- professional” account They’re responsible for their department’s twitter account so you see identical tweets coming from the department and their account at the exact same time They post photos of themselves during their work day, in uniform, during the course of their normal duties There is almost always mention in their bio about, “… tweets and opinions are my own and don’t represent my department…”(Opinion: I doubt this would stand up in a criminal/civil lawsuit or internal affairs investigation). This is not to say that law enforcement professionals should never post about law enforcement issues from their personal accounts. To the contrary, the issue is whether an examination of their social media feed or profile has anything in it that would make the average person think they used the account in an official law enforcement capacity (think back to photos in uniform, tweeting incident information, etc). Now, mix this with a few personal opinions about politics, religion, promoting their personal side business or (fill in the blank) and it’s a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, there are recent examples where police chiefs have lost their jobs due to opinions they expressed on social media, sometimes recently, and in other instances from years ago. The takeaway is this: don’t mix the two. Either keep your social media presence completely professional or completely personal and private (with the caveat that nothing is ever truly private on social media). Recent case law has shown that law enforcement agencies are able to limit free speech rights of police officers and the topic has been written about in the media. Most contemporary department social media policies draw a distinction between personal (constitutionally protected) free speech vs. speech made pursuant do their official duties. As an example, the Mountain View (CA) Police Department social media policy says the following: Another area where police chiefs stray on social media is when they break news on their own official social media accounts. Breaking news will always draw immediate “likes” and “reshares” of your post. Resist this temptation. If your residents and media are used to following your agency’s main social media accounts for news, it’s confusing to now have news come from a different account during a time of crisis. The best practice is to let your agency break the news online and in turn, reshare that agency post or tweet from your account. In conclusion, I believe more law enforcement leaders need to be seen and heard online to make us more present, tell our stories, and be heard in the national narrative. In doing so, take care to draw a clear line between your personal and professional accounts. Your presence online is a valuable asset to your community and organization. In the same way that public events allow a forum for you to express your leadership values, brand, and style, consider stepping in to the social media world to do the same. Your community is likely already there. Clearly know and understand the “lane” your online presence operates in (posting about leadership, community involvement, etc.) and avoid crossing into the “lane” your agency social media operates in (day to day posts, breaking news, or positive stories about your agency). Don’t let you discomfort with technology result in missed opportunities to interact online. It’s well worth the time and investment to use a communication mechanism that has now become ■ i Mountain View Police Department Policy 1055 – Social Media SPRING 2019 | California Police Chief 29