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Tweets and Opinions Don’t Represent My Agency*

Tweets and Opinions Don’t Represent My Agency*

By: Chris Hsiung
Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Chris Hsiung

Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

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The majority of police departments in the United States now have some sort of presence on Twitter, and that’s a good thing. When used correctly and effectively, departments big and small can successfully manage critical incidents by tweeting out timely information and dispelling rumors.

The rise of law enforcement on social media has also brought about many police officers, command staff, and chiefs who have created their own Twitter accounts. This is also a good thing as it fosters communication and engagement with the public and allows people to get to know the faces behind the badge. Some have “official” Twitter accounts bearing profile photos in uniform while others have “non-professional” accounts with Twitter bios that say something similar to, “tweets and opinions are my own and don’t reflect my agency…” Those with professional accounts know (or should know) to stay away from tweeting about certain topics like politics, personal opinions, or religion. Those with non-professional accounts would be wise to stick to personal opinions, thoughts, or whatever they are comfortable sharing on social media. The problem, and the topic of this blog, is when the two overlap.

I have seen far too many police chiefs and officers who have “non-professional” or personal Twitter accounts blur these lines and this is what one of those accounts look like:

   * Their Twitter handle contains their rank
   * Their profile or cover photos have them in uniform or portray their department patch, badges, or logos
   * They tweet official incident information from their “non-professional” account (speaking with authority and their message can be construed as if it was from the department). Secondarily, they’re responsible for their department’s Twitter account so you see identical tweets coming from the department and their account at the exact same time
   * They tweet photos of themselves during their work day, in uniform, during the course of their normal duties
   * There is almost always mention in the Twitter bio about, “…tweets and opinions are my own and don’t represent my department…” (Opinion: I doubt this would stand up in court or in an internal affairs investigation) 

This is not to say that law enforcement professionals should never tweet about law enforcement issues from their personal accounts. To the contrary, the issue is whether an examination of their twitter feed or profile has anything in it which would make the average person think they used the account in an official law enforcement capacity (think back to photos in uniform, tweeting incident information, etc). Now, mix this with a few personal opinions about politics, religion, promoting their personal side business or (fill in the blank). It’s a potential recipe for disaster. The takeaway is this: don’t mix the two. Either keep your social media presence completely professional or completely personal (and private).

Recent case law has shown that law enforcement agencies are able to limit free speech rights of police officers and the topic has been written about in the media. Most contemporary department social media policies draw a distinction between personal (constitutionally protected) free speech vs. speech made pursuant do their official duties. As an example, the Mountain View, California, Police Department social media policy says the following:

Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships of this department for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among coworkers, or negatively affect the public perception of the department. 

and 

As public employees, department personnel are cautioned that speech on or off-duty, made pursuant to their official duties, “that is, that owes its existence to the employee's professional duties and responsibilities, "is not protected speech under the First Amendment and may form the basis for discipline if deemed detrimental to the department. Department personnel should assume that their speech and related activity on social media sites will reflect upon their position and this department. 1

To recap, I absolutely advocate for social media use, but where I would suggest the line be drawn is when you begin to see a confluence between your personal life and your professional one. If you are a legitimate source for news and updates from your agency with your professional account, maintain and hone that. Your account is a valuable asset to your organization in the realm of social media. But when the waters begin to become murky as a result of expressing personal opinions, remember this: Your job is about the protection, safety and service to your community, no matter what they believe or who they support. It is not your job to express your sole opinion about something in a way that seems to reflect the entirety of the department. That’s not fair to your colleagues, and that’s not fair to your community, no matter what you may say in your quick bio on your profile.

1Mountain View Police Department Policy 1055 – Social Media http://www.mountainview.gov/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=20335
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    So you have found, or perhaps stumbled upon, The Social Media Beat, the blog for the IACP Center for Social Media Web site. The Social Media Beat is about three things: social media, law enforcement, and perspective. Here you will find a fresh outlook on the issues that are affecting law enforcement agencies and their personnel when it comes to social media.

    Social media is taking the world by storm. Social networks, blogs, photo and video sharing sites, and virtual communities are changing the way people live, work, and play. These tools present unique opportunities as well as challenges to the law enforcement community.  The Social Media Beat brings together a team of bloggers who will speak directly to you about hot topics and current issues.

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    Dionne Waugh

    Dionne Waugh is the Digital Communications Manager for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which is the largest, full-service sheriff’s office in the state of Colorado. Prior to that, she spent more than six years creating and leading the Richmond, Virginia, Police Department’s social media efforts, which led to international acclaim and recognition.

    She has spoken about law enforcement and social media at more than a dozen conferences across the country in addition to four IACP annual conferences. Waugh is a former newspaper reporter who wrote about crime, police, and the court system for several years. That experience and an ingrained curiosity for what makes people tick has fueled her desire to improve communication between people. Follow Dionne on Twitter @JeffCoSheriffCo.

    IACP Center for Social Media

    IACP's Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel to develop or enhance their agency's use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations. The Center is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

    Leon Robertson

    Officer Leon Robertson is the Social Media Coordinator for the Hampton Police Division. Robertson has developed internationally recognized public safety messages, including the Jingle Bells “Holiday Safety Remix” in December 2013. He has extensive experience in graphic design, video & audio production, and managing various social media platforms. You can follow Officer Robertson’s efforts with the Hampton Police Division on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

    Tracy Phillips

    Tracy is a Senior Project Specialist with the IACP. She is responsible for managing the day-to-day operation of the DiscoverPolicing.org Web site and coordinating the site's social networking plan. In addition, Ms. Phillips provides writing, editorial, and technical assistance on a variety of association projects and activities, including police management studies, job analyses, executives searches, federal grants, and various research projects and proposals. She has more than 10 years of experience in state and local government, including work as a management analyst, performance auditor, and crime analyst. Ms. Phillips holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from Clemson University.

    Want to hear more from Tracy Phillips? Follow her and the Discover Policing team on TwitterFacebook, and on the Inside Discover Policing blog. You can also network with other police recruitment professionals in the Law Enforcement Recruitment LinkedIn group.

    Zach Perron

    Lieutenant Zach Perron is the public affairs manager for the Palo Alto (CA) Police Department. Zach was a 2014 visiting fellow at the IACP in the Center for Social Media. He serves on the steering committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG), and is a member of the US. Department of Homeland Security's Virtual Social Media Working Group (VSMWG). He holds a bachelor's degree in American Studies from Stanford University and is now pursuing a graduate education at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California.  You can follow him on Twitter: @zpPAPD.

    Dave Norris

    Sergeant Dave Norris is a 21 year veteran of the City of San Mateo Police Department. He has worked in a number of positions including Juvenile Detective, Field Training Officer, Narcotics Detective, and Patrol Supervisor. Dave is currently assigned to Community and Media Relations and oversees day-to-day functions that involve the relationship between the police, the community, and the media. Dave is dedicated to the increase of community engagement through the use of social media. Under his management, San Mateo PD's direct subscribers to community alerts and public safety messaging has grown from several hundred to over 22,000.

    Chris Hsiung

    Captain Chris Hsiung commands the Field Operations Division at the Mountain View Police Department in California. Through the department Community Action and Information Unit (CAIU), he manages strategy, community engagement, and growth through the police department social media channels. Chris has been serving the Mountain View community for over 19 years and has held a variety of assignments within MVPD. These include detective assignments in Property Crimes, Person Crimes, and High Tech Crimes as well as collateral assignments on SWAT and the Field Evidence Team. He also serves on the planning committee for the Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group (BALESMG). You can follow him on Twitter @chMtnViewPD.

    Lynn Hightower

    Lynn is the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the Boise Police Department and has served in that role since October, 2003. Lynn also serves at the PIO for the Boise Fire Department. Lynn authors and manages the social media outreach for Boise Police and often acts as media spokesperson. She advises officers from patrol to command staff on media and public communications skills. Lynn joined the Boise Police Department after 17 years as a television reporter, producer, anchor, and news director. Lynn regularly instructs new officers at the Boise Police Academy and has given media and public communications presentations to dozens of federal, state, and local emergency responder agencies. Follow Lynn and Boise Police on Twitter @BoisePD.

    Billy Grogan

    Billy Grogan is the Chief of Police for the Dunwoody Police Department in Georgia. Chief Grogan was hired on December 17, 2008, after serving 28 years with the Marietta, Georgia, Police Department, to start a brand new department. On April 1, 2009, the Dunwoody Police Department began operations with 40 sworn officers and eight civilians providing police services to the 47,000+ residents of the City of Dunwoody. Chief Grogan embraced the use of social media from day one of operations. The Dunwoody Police Department began using Twitter the first day and has added Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Vine to their arsenal since then as effective tools to market their department and engage their community. Chief Grogan has written about the benefits of law enforcements use of social media, participated in several social media focus groups and lectured at the IACP, Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, COPS Conference, and many other venues. Follow Chief Grogan on Twitter @ChiefGrogan and the Dunwoody Police Department @DunwoodyPolice.

    Mark Economou

    Mark Economou is the Public Information Officer for the Boca Raton Police Department in Boca Raton, Florida. His media and public relations background spans nearly 20 years. Spending nearly 15 years in radio and television news, Economou held many positions from assignment editor, reporter, anchor, and executive editor. After that, he served as the Director of Media Relations for Cote & D'Ambrosio, a Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising firm in Wickford, RI. He then served as head of Media Relations for Citizens Bank of Rhode Island, the 9th largest bank in the United States. Follow Mark on Twitter @BocaPolice.

    Frank Domizio

    Corporal Frank Domizio has been with the Philadelphia Police Department since 1997. He is currently assigned to the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensics Lab as a Forensic Examiner. Previously he was assigned to the Department's Office of Media Relations and Public Affairs where he was the Social and Digital Media Manager. Frank has spoke at several industry conferences and major universities on the topics of social media and content strategy.

    Tim Burrows

    Tim Burrows was a sworn police officer for 25 years with experience in front line operations, primary response, traffic, detective operations, and supervision. He has training in a broad spectrum of policing responsibilities including IMS, Emergency Management, computer assisted technology investigations, leadership, community policing, and crisis communications. Tim left policing but has remained involved through consulting with law enforcement on the advancement of communications and social media. Tim runs #CopChat on Wednesday nights at 9pm ET, to allow police and community members to connect and break down barriers. To learn more about him you can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or click here to contact him http://bit.ly/ContactTimBurrows

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    The Social Media Beat periodically features guest bloggers who share their perspective on the topic of social media and law enforcement. These individuals are law enforcement professionals; sworn and civilian personnel from agencies of all types and sizes throughout the world. If you are interested in guest blogging, please send your request to socialmedia@theiacp.org. All bloggers must be affiliated with a law enforcement agency or educational institution. We cannot accept blog entries from vendors or others working in a for-profit capacity.

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