Social Media in Law Enforcement

As technology continues to evolve, individuals, including some law enforcement officers, are putting themselves in risky situations that linger on longer than a fun night.

One of the breakout sessions at the 2019 Annual Convention Seminar focuses on social media in law enforcement. POAM Legal Professional Gordana Misovski discussed legal information and the do’s and don’ts of social media.

Knowing Your Rights

As a government employee, there are a couple of rights to explain before we dive deeper into the social media topic. First, government employees and human beings have the right to the First Amendment, which states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – The Constitute Project

While free speech is given to government employees, it cannot be harmful speech against the government, who is also your employer. If the complaint or issue is of public concern, then employees are protected under this amendment. Another right is the Internet Privacy Protection Act, which protects personal account information from employers. But if an employer pays for a cell phone, service or device, in any way or at all, then they have a right to the information stored in your phone.

5 Tips to Avoid When Using Social Media in Law Enforcement

Contravene Confidentiality

Police officers are trusted by their employer and have a duty to protect the confidentiality of the information you obtain while serving in your community. Honor that by not posting crime scene photos, confidential source information, release information regarding ongoing investigations, etc.

Bash Your Boss

Social media isn’t the place to let out anger and aggression. Law enforcement officers should not let out their frustrations, insult coworkers or others by name, or use their picture.

Pornographic Pictures

This is a common case that POAM sees regularly – pornographic pictures. Do not post parts of your official uniform or make it visible by it hanging off with special attention to your department’s insignia. This also includes showing off the department weapon in any way – none of this should happen nor is it acceptable.

Drugs and Alcohol

Refrain from posting photos using any illicit substance or intoxicant. Drunken behaviors, especially public, will always be noticed by law enforcement agency executives. Take caution before posting content to social media.

Racist Rants

Lastly, all law enforcement officers should avoid using any racist, sexist, homophobic, or misogynist language online. While it is fine to have an opinion, there should be some conduct. When posting, you represent your entire department and law enforcement in general. Behaviors mentioned are intolerable and can be used to publicly to impeach credibility.

Safe Practice Tips

  • Use social media wisely.
  • Set restrictions, boundaries, and privacy settings.
  • All social media platforms can make private profiles. This ensures your privacy and protection.
For More Information

POAM’s Legal Staff represents all members. If you have questions or comments on this post, let us know on social media – Facebook or Twitter.