Ink and Internet Indiscretions

Posting party photos online and getting tattoos is OK for most people, but police agencies will expect you to be more careful of the image you project.

Keeping up with the times, background investigators have now added a few questions to their checklist to proactively protect a department’s image, such as, “Could there be anything on the Internet you have posted that you need to declare?”

This question has come up several times recently when discussing police applicant background investigations. Granted, it should go without saying, but here goes. The point is that you should now expect background investigators to check out your presence on “social networking” Web sites. Yes, that’s right. So think twice before you put something stupid out there in cyberspace.

Social Networking Sites

I’m not going to name any one in particular, but you know which Web sites I’m talking about. There’s a plethora out there. Some are generic, while some focus on specific interests and locations. Matters not; the investigators are going to find them and anything you said or wrote that is totally stupid.

The old school investigators used to get their hands on your high school annual to read about your youthful exploits. Being voted the “most likely to be incarcerated” will not get bonus points with the civil service board. But now what they’ll be reading has been authored by you, not classmates.

Now, there are high-tech investigations going on with several of the social networking Web sites. Most offer assistance to law enforcement. Egad! Some tricky investigator may even have a stealth site just to check you out. One cannot consider this a joke or youthful prank. Just remember if we can find it, so can others. Say if you are hired and somebody wants to create some reverse problems for you since you are now the fuzz. If you posted it and all of the nonsense, you’ll reap what you sow.

Am I against these sites? No, I am not by any means. In fact, I post on one myself for professional reasons. But I am guarded about the information I provide because whatever I place there, all – and I mean all – can see it somehow or other.

I would be wary of posting party photos or referencing gang affiliations, youthful indiscretions, or any mention of your sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll exploits. Remember here you are trying to obtain employment with a law enforcement agency, not get recruited by a rock band.

The point here is it’s a fact that the current generation of applicants is actively participating in Internet networking – which is fine. I think it is awesome to reunite with pals or keep up with long distance friends. I just chatted with a colleague of mine in Iraq. But, think about what you are posting. If your mother or priest cannot see it without coming after you, don’t do it. Your employment future could be at stake.

More Ink Issues

The other day an esteemed colleague of mine who is a gang investigator told me this story. It seems that a recruit had some questionable ink (tattoos) on his body that raised the ire of the academy staff. The recruit stated that the tats did not mean what the academy staff thought they meant. It was a youthful indiscretion, no harm done.

Then the colleague of mine was brought in to read the tattoos and give his definitions of what they meant. Bottom line, the soon to be ex-recruit was at the minimum a former gang member.

I have told you in previous columns about tattoos and police work. Some places don’t allow them if they are visible at all. Others may and the policy continues to change. What is more worrisome is the symbols. You may know what they mean and it could be harmless, but how Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen see them is often the litmus test. No, I am not anti-tattoos – I have several of my own. Just be considerate of the type, placement, and what the repercussions may be.

Let’s face it; it is difficult to get that job you want in law enforcement. My goal is to keep the good stream of applicants flowing to their dream and my profession. What I do not want is for you, during one momentary lapse of reasoning, to blow your chances of getting that dream job.

William “Bill” Harvey is the chief of the Ephrata (Pa.) Police Department. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.



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