Participate in social networking and texting at your own risk. Take an old school route to avoid problems.
Once again I’m amazed with young officers and how they manage to get themselves into trouble. The newest twist is brought by the high-tech squad. The casual way officers exchange comments and photos via technological gizmos is a path to a career pitfall. Maybe I am old school and most will say that the curmudgeon has come out again, but you be the judge.
Social networking may be the new method of updating your life, but think before you post. I am seeing more departments seeking restrictions on social networking and its nuances. Let me give you some recent examples.
An officer takes a snap on his phone to post the really neat structure fire that he was directing traffic around. Add a cute little snippet on the old Internet page. Later when insurance investigators are seeking any and all clues on this fire event, they are told that the responding officer did not have any photos. However, the chief will find out from the investigator later that the officer had posted these online, much to the department’s embarrassment and the officer’s woe.
Old school lesson: Do your job and don’t seek trouble.
While on the subject of social interaction via phones, let’s add texting to this. Defense attorneys are seeking ways to gain any and all correspondence regarding their clients. One scenario involves young coppers are texting back and forth about a case. They’ll swap suggestions on what to write, how to place certain actions in the report, etc. You get the drift. Now, are these texts discoverable? Freedom of information and open records laws are evolving as we speak. Learn your state’s laws and how they apply to you.
Plus, if you have a social networking page, watch what you write. “Oh boy, another shift of dealing with Zone 2 scumbags” is a statement that you are going to regret. You never know who is reading and who has an axe to grind with you.
Old school lesson: Do not talk/write outside of school. Keep life simple.
Recently I was told of one officer, in a state far away from me, who was posting photos of himself with his arrestees. You have got to be kidding me. Again, privacy and legal issues are lurking here for that officer (provided he is still employed) and his department.
Old school lesson: Don’t brag; stick to your business.
Integrity is a word we use a lot in law enforcement. I was having lunch with an academy director regarding a cheating scandal they were dealing with. One part was the students had their Internet-capable phones in the classroom with them while testing. There are allegations of texting answers back and forth. Another allegation was that one student was looking at notes on his or her phone in a file. All denied cheating, but there was a cloud over that class and their early careers. I’m wondering, why are they allowed devices in the classroom or during testing? Where was the proctor?
Old school lesson: Study and preparation is hard work. Do it right and the knowledge stays with you.
I have seen hundreds, make that thousands, of young officers in my career. My biggest advice to you is that you do not have to seek trouble; it can seek you out. If your pals encourage you to do something because it is cool, nicky neat, or whatever, ask yourself a few questions before you engage in the frivolity.
Ask yourself, “Could I be violating a policy, a law, someone’s privacy, or just proper decorum? Does a professional do this?” My goal is to see young recruits make probation and make real careers of this vocation. This is not the magic kingdom where you can do things within a bubble. One day your bubble can burst.
Editor’s note: This article initially appeared in Police Magazine, a sister publication of Campus Safety Magazine.