4 ways police officers can stay safe on Facebook

Use proactive policy and training to keep your department out of trouble with social media

Article updated October 11, 2018 

Do police give up a part of their personal lives the moment they are sworn in as law enforcement officers? While it may always have been that way, it’s a question departments are asking themselves frequently as officers take to Facebook and Twitter, posting comments and pictures about the things they’re doing on and off duty. 

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, a single ill-mannered picture or post can tarnish an officer’s reputation, and consequently the reputation of an entire department.

Every police department needs a social media policy
Every police department needs a social media policy

At the 2013 Social Media and the Internet in Law Enforcement (SMILE) Conference, Officer Nathan Steele of the West Sacramento Police Department addressed the struggles officers have with technology ethics — and how to take proactive steps to keep your department out of trouble with social media.

1. Stay on Top of Newest Technology

Officers in higher command in a department tend to be older than their colleagues — and generally less savvy with social media and associated technology. If you’re one of those more “senior” members, ask younger officers to update you with what is happening in the internet world, and keep up with it.

2. Train for Unethical Use

“Trophy photos” versus public perception: Twenty years ago you could proudly display trophy photos because you were handing your camera or a photograph to a colleague, they would laugh, and hand it back,” Steele told the session. 

In today’s world, Steele said, the moment you share a photo by sending it to someone or posting it to your Facebook, you’ve lost all control. It is no secret that cops and civilians don’t share the same sense of humor. DON’T SHARE TROPHY PHOTOS.

3. Develop a social media policy

Steele told the session at SMILE the three main areas to focus on when developing a social media policy are:

  • What is acceptable and what is not to the members of your department 
  • How to deal with an issue after it has occurred, for fast, effective damage control
  • The social media environment is constantly changing — let your policies change with it

4. Create a social media Training Plan

Talk with employees about keeping their personal lives private, Steele told the session. Law enforcement cherishes their personal lives more than others, for a reason.

In addition, don’t present the training plan like it’s another rule. Present it by stating, “I’m trying to keep you out of trouble” as opposed to “You aren’t allowed to use this.”

“Cleaning out a friend’s locker was the most gut-wrenching experience I’ve ever had — and for saying something stupid,” Steele said, of a colleague and friend let go from his department.

“If we can prevent one officer from making these kinds of mistakes, than it’s worth it.” 

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