Friday afternoon (known throughout the media and PR world as the time when people dump news stories they don’t want covered), the Seattle Police Department released their new Social Media Policy. It includes much of what you’d expect when it comes to social media accounts managed as official SPD accounts. However, one component struck me as odd, and potentially extremely problematic.
5.125-POL 2 – Employee Personal Use of Social Media:
Employees may express themselves as private citizens on social media sites as long as employees do not:
– Make, share, or comment in support of any posting that includes harassment, threats of violence, or similar inappropriate conduct
– Make, share, or comment in support of any posting that ridicules, maligns, disparages, expresses bias, negative connotations, or disrespect toward any race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other protected class of individuals
– Make, share, or comment in support of any posting that suggests that Department personnel are engaged in behavior reasonably considered to be unlawful or reckless toward public safety
– Otherwise violate any law or SPD policy
Employees are responsible for the content of their social media accounts. Employees shall make reasonable efforts to monitor their accounts so that postings made by others on their accounts conform to this policy.
I’ve bolded the part that strikes me as unhelpful to the SPD’s own efforts to change the department culture for the better.
How is it okay to tell your officers that they aren’t allowed to comment when someone else points out that SPD officers aren’t doing their jobs well and are being reckless? What happens if someone from SPD is disciplined – or fired – for doing something utterly reckless toward public safety (like, say arresting a man for using a golf club as a cane, or pepper spraying a man walking on the sidewalk)? How can I take my police department seriously if, on their own time, its officers have to just pretend that their colleagues aren’t breaking the law?
I’m also wondering if this applies once a police officer is convicted of doing something unlawful or reckless. Are the members of SPD not allowed to say “hey, that was awful, I don’t want that in my police department” on a Facebook post? How can I be expected to start to build any trust in the police department’s claim that they will take misconduct seriously if they discipline their own officers for simply acknowledging the problems within their own department?
My guess is that they are concerned about building distrust in the ranks, or perhaps they’re afraid of litigation (“see, their own officers are saying what they are doing is wrong!”). But the fact that there isn’t even a caveat for commenting when a police officer is fired or put in prison because of misconduct seems to me that they just want their officers to pretend that they never do anything wrong.
Another interesting thing to me is that this ostensibly also applies to anyone who isn’t an officer but works for SPD, including staff in the Office of Emergency Management. Hmmmmm.