Police departments and law-enforcement unions are strengthening policies and warning members in an effort to avoid a spotlight on officers’ offensive social-media posts, reports the Wall Street Journal. The moves follow reports of derogatory and hostile online comments by police officers, some of whom face discipline for posting racist images or threats against public officials. Representatives of rank-and-file officers are raising questions about what the limits should be on police who want to share their views as private citizens. “We all have a First Amendment right,” said Michael London of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. He advised members not to post anything people could find “remotely offensive,” after 12 Phoenix officers were assigned to nonenforcement roles pending results of an investigation into posts that included offensive images of Mexicans and Muslims.
Law-enforcement experts said posts aren’t subject to free speech protections because officers are typically barred from behavior that reflects badly on their department, whether on or off duty. Phoenix is one of several cities where offensive police comments have been highlighted by the Plain View Project, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. In Philadelphia, where the project found offensive posts by 300 officers, Police Commissioner Richard Ross launched social-media training for officers and said the department will audit social-media content to root out problems. He has moved to fire 13 officers over Facebook posts. The Dallas police department is investigating 34 officers for online comments that encouraged violence by law enforcement and were demeaning toward racial and religious minorities. The police union is cautioning officers to post only comments they are certain won’t get them in trouble, said president Mike Mata. “The officers are confused on where the standard is. Where is that line?” he said. “Do they have a right to privacy at all?”