Va. court rules department’s social media policy unconstitutional

Two former officers were disciplined after criticizing the department on Facebook

By Police1 Staff

PETERSBURG, Va. — A court ruled Thursday that a department’s social media policy is unconstitutional and violated officers’ first amendment rights. 

Two former officers were disciplined after violating the policy by posting a conversation on Facebook that was critical of their department, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

“While we are sensitive to the Department’s need for discipline throughout the chain of command, the policy here and the disciplinary actions taken pursuant to it would, if upheld, lead to an utter lack of transparency in law enforcement operations that the First Amendment cannot countenance,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in the opinion.

The policy was revised in 2013, and stated that officers would be disciplined if they posted anything “that would tend to discredit or reflect unfavorably upon the (department) or any other City of Petersburg Department or its employees.”

The Facebook conversation between the two officers was critical of the promotions of unnamed, younger officers, who they believed lacked enough experience for the promotions.

The officers were put on probation for six months, and were ineligible to sit for a promotional examination. Neither officer is still with the department, the publication reported.

Lawyers said the decision could push other government departments to rewrite their social media policies. 

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