Social Media is a Police Chief’s Nightmare
By: Joseph Giacalone
Social media is a police chief’s nightmare. Amongst the other hundred things that could go wrong for them, social media has reared its ugly head in a terrible way. The Facebook post of Cherokee County Captain Jay Baker, the Public Information Officer, has caused a stir. As a result, the reaction was to delete the posts and then his entire account. That’s the equivalent of dumping bleach at a crime scene. “You are what you post” has become a real problem for police departments.
It’s Time to Face the Facts
Police executives across the United States can’t avoid the social media elephant in the room any longer. If they don’t, it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with them. Inaction, by the chief will cause his/her unemployment. Rocky Mountain Interim Police Chief George Robinson resigned on March 18, 2021, after five officers were disciplined for their social media videos. One of the uglier cases, came from the NYPD. Deputy Inspector James Kobel was fired for posts against Black, Jewish, and members of the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, there are a number of other cases.
Suggested Solutions to the Social Media Problem
Added to the myriad of problems that the modern day police chief faces, social media use has gained prominence. Here are three suggestions that current/future police chiefs can use to help ease the problem:
- Expand investigations into candidates social media history
- Ban the use of the uniform and department property on social media unless authorized
- Create policies that outline prohibited conduct and discipline
Expand Social Media Investigations of Candidates
Police executives should provide additional resources to take a deeper dive into a candidates social media history. A thorough and complete assessment should be made of each police candidate social media history. Social media is so prevalent in the new generations entering policing, that in the future it will hold the key to hiring decisions. Individuals who want to be a police officer in the future should take heed.
Ban the Use of the Uniform and Department Property on Social Media Unless Authorized
This is the easiest to address. The NYPD banned the use of it’s uniform for off-duty events a long time ago and it maybe a good time for other departments to follow suit. Each time an officer says or does something in uniform, whether on or off-duty, it reflects upon the entire department.
Create Social Media Policies that Outline Prohibitive Conduct and Discipline
The policy regarding the use and abuse of social media by members of the department should be clear and concise. If there is a policy in place, maybe it needs to be revised. The policy is a necessary tool that describes the prohibited conduct and the discipline associated with it. You can train officers in a variety of methods, such as: roll call, in-service, and of course, new recruit curriculum.
The Nation is Watching
When I was a police officer and Sergeant, I didn’t have to worry about any of this. However, times have change. Police officers must act professionally on and off duty. Policing is an awesome responsibility fraught with dangers. Some of those dangers can be avoided with a policy, procedure, and supervision. Many times police executives need to protect the cops from themselves.