Police officers are being disciplined or finding themselves at the wrong end of a department policy based on their use (or misuse) of electronic media, Terrence Dwyer writes on Policeone.com. Sites including Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter have caused unexpected problems for officers. This trend follows Internet-related disciplinary run-ins resulting from officer blogs, viewing of Internet pornography sites on department computers, and officer websites displaying questionable material in terms of taste and propriety. Most recently, a Columbia, Mo, officer was disciplined for comments he made on the website for a local newspaper.
As a generation of new officers who have grown up with access to social networking sites enter the ranks, Dwyer says, they are less inclined to see the problem with the sites and employer limits on their off-duty use. Just as a prior generation of officers were forbidden to frequent certain establishments when off-duty, a new generation of officers may be precluded from their activity on the Internet. Utica, N.Y., has sought to define these limits by enacting a policy for an officer’s use and postings on social networking sites. Police Chief Mark Williams has crafted a use policy that focuses on protecting the reputation of the department and the individual officer.