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By October 30, 2013 Read More →

Social media is like your firearm

Once the trigger is pulled and “post” leaves the barrel, it cannot be taken back.

Lt. John "Zeek" Teletchea (Prince George's County, Maryland) has some wise words about social media.

Lt. John “Zeek” Teletchea (Prince George’s County, Maryland) has some wise words about social media.

By John “Zeek” Teletchea, Treasurer, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, Prince George’s County Maryland

Mark Twain said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while truth is putting on its shoes.” Great words to live by from an outdated time. The reality is that in 2013 a lie or the truth travels around the whole world in an instant.

With the advent of social media, we know all about our friend’s
vacation before they ever return home. We have entered an age where we are extremely open with our thoughts and words. We may think we are just sharing them with our friends, but we must remember we are using the “world” wide web as our delivery system. Anything we  write on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media has the possibility of being viewed by anyone in the world. And anything we want kept private should stay as far away from social media as possible.

There are too many news headlines to count that read, “Police Officer Fired for Facebook Post . . . ” A number of these are a result of photographs of inappropriate conduct. However, written comments far outweigh pictures when it comes to discipline cases in the law enforcement world.

A deputy sheriff in Virginia was fired for clicking “like” on the Facebook page of the opposing candidate running against the current Sheriff. The courts ruled his speech – the simple act of clicking “like” – was not protected under the First Amendment.

Whenever the topic of social media comes up, people always cite their First Amendment rights. The First Amendment may protect the everyday citizen, but it does not offer the same protection to public officials, including
you, the law enforcement officer.

While older court decisions allowed greater protections for speech by public employees, the current state of the law is more restrictive. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006).

While a detailed analysis of the changes in the law over the years is beyond the scope of this article, it is more important to know where we are today. Putting aside all possible exceptions, nuances and subtleties, you should know that statements made by public employees of work grievances and complaints personal to themselves and their job, are not matters of public concern and have no First Amendment protection.

Also keep in mind that if the statements are about a matter of a public concern (i.e. made as a citizen and not an employee), they may be protected by the First Amendment. The important consideration is whether the employer can establish that the speech, is a matter of public concern, still has a potential adverse effect on its operations. If it does, there is no protection. An adverse effect can be any speech that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers or has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary or that
impedes the performance of the speaker’s duties or interferes with the regular operation of the enterprise.”

Another even more concerning aspect of social media for those of us in law enforcement is that in several cases, suspects have targeted police officers’ families based on information they have found on the internet. If an officer lists his or her employment or has a picture in uniform on their page, it simply makes it easy. Suspects have searched their name and either became
friends with the Officer through surreptitious means or “hacked” into the page. Once on the Officer’s page, the suspect has identified family members of the Officer and made direct threats to them.

A suspect was stopped in Phoenix in 2010 and he had over 30 Public Safety employees identified in a file he was compiling. All of his information came from Facebook. Defense attorneys are also investing time researching Officers prior to trial. The attorneys are looking for anything that may be used to discredit the Officer or show any form of bias.

We all need to take steps to ensure our safety. First, keep your social media and your job separate. Make sure your security settings are at the highest level available. Remember to check these often as companies change format
and settings often. Use the time tested “front page news headline” rule prior to posting anything on Social Media. If you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, don’t post it. Inside jokes and seemingly
harmless jabs do not have the same meaning to the general  public as they do to your friends.

Think of social media like your firearm, once the trigger is pulled and the “post” is out of the barrel, it cannot be taken back.

Posted in: Intel Report

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