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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

National Trends in Social Media

The impact of officers’ postings on social media continues to be a concern for the public safety community. I recently attended a national law enforcement risk management conference, and — like many conferences — there were a series of classes on a range of topics presented over the course of a few days. And the subject of social media postings came up over and over again.

It came up in the very first presentation, which focused on what is happening nationally. They discussed how social media postings by officers was impacting liability litigation (and not for the better).

A couple hours later in a session entitled “Toxic Internal Liabilities,” it was raised again as a factor in multiple internal investigations of discrimination, harassment, and hostile work environment cases. At one point, the presenter said: “This is coming from within our organizations.”

The concern is focused on staff who post comments on social media that reflect a less- than-professional image. Some of the postings reflected a bias, while others were more subtle such as “liking” a very offensive comment. And they even looked at who the officers acknowledged as their online “friends.”

Officers’ social media postings came up again in a class that examined police liability cases. The instructors reviewed a variety of cases, discussing the facts and factors that helped them decide whether to try the case in court or to pursue a settlement. The review included the social media postings of the officers involved, and whether the postings would impact trying the case.

The class on internal affairs investigations raised the topic again — and the word “scandal” began to creep into the discussion.

Whether it’s a critical incident, an internal investigation, a pending civil case, or a criminal investigation, investigators and attorneys are racing to find out what the officers involved have posted online. Many online postings make a good case into a difficult one and can certainly mitigate any case. I came away thinking that there are the facts of the case, and then there is the self-imposed liability of the officer’s online presence.

Now I bet you’re thinking: so what else is new? That’s my point. This is not new, and yet it continues to occur. And it is all self-induced. The job is tough enough without officers adding to their liability with their social media presence.

As the conference was ending, I asked one of the presenters if he and the other speakers had planned to feature the topic across all of the presentations. He frowned and said they had not, adding that this topic is that wide-ranging of a problem.

Up next: We Team Up with HR on Handling Internal Complaints

Stay safe,

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