In previous posts, we’ve highlighted the role social media can play in assisting agencies’ policing initiatives and building trust with the community, and for good reason: it has become incredibly useful in policing. In fact, a March 2012 study by LexisNexis of over 1,200 federal, state and local law enforcement professionals showed that nearly 7 out of 10 respondents believed that social media helps solve crimes faster than traditional methods alone. But while officers may be using Facebook and Twitter to help close cases on-duty, their online activities off-duty may be putting themselves and their agency at risk.
Undermining Safety and Agency Credibility:
Perhaps not heard as often as headlines such as “Facebook Photos Help Police Catch Party Burglars“, occasionally we hear stories of social media posts getting officers and their agencies into trouble. Unfortunately the very tools officers use to target suspects can be used against them by the very criminals they are investigating. In 2011, Maricopa County Sheriffs arrested a suspect on suspicion of DUI and found a CD containing the names and photographs of over 30 Phoenix PD patrol and undercover officers–all obtained from Facebook. Social media sharing can not only compromise the safety of officers, it can undermine the credibility and integrity of the agency to the public when ill-advised posts and pictures make a public appearance. Just last week, Detroit’s Chief of Police was busted after pictures emerged on twitter exposing an affair with a department subordinate. For a community already demoralized by financial woes and previous scandals, the photos were a kick in the gut.
Tips for Online Officer Safety:
While your agency should strongly consider a social media policy that dictates acceptable activities for off-duty officers and staff, here are 3 smart tips for keeping your social media sharing safe and clean.
1. Figure out Your Privacy Settings: On Facebook and other networking platforms, set your settings so that only your “friends” can see the information you post, the pages you like, etc. Look through all the apps you might have and lock them down as well. Remember that information you share can be shared by others, so be selective in your social networking.
2. Don’t Mix Personal with Professional Content: Keep two accounts, one for the professional and the other for the regular guy or gal that you are off the job. Refrain from posting information or photos about your personal life (especially of the family) on your professional twitter or Facebook accounts and keep your professional contacts from meshing with your personal ones online.
3. Don’t Post, ‘Like’ or Tweet Anything Your Grandma Wouldn’t Approve Of: Chances are if granny wouldn’t approve, your agency wouldn’t either. Keeping it clean will help maintain your agency’s credibility and trust with the community and will keep you from losing your job like this cop, who mistakenly believed “what happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook”.