Police Departments Revise Their Social-Media Policies

Government employers have different considerations when drafting a social-media policy than do employers in the private sector. The First Amendment, for example, restricts the limits public-sector employers can place on employees who discuss matters of public concern. At the same time, though, some government employers-particularly those in law enforcement and education-face different, and, often, more significant, risks when their employees post online.

For example, a post about a pending investigation may compromise the investigation if confidential information is disclosed to the public. Or a police officer’s credibility may be called into question during trial based on inappropriate comments he made on his Facebook page. And, you can imagine, an officer’s conduct-good or bad-is likely to be imputed to the entire police department, thereby potentially undermining the department’s reputation in the community. So, although law-enforcement agencies may not prohibit their employers from speaking at all in an online forum, the law does recognize that there are important public interests at issue that may require these employees to be subject to some limits when it comes to online speech.

The Albuquerque Police Department recently revised its social-media policy (video), following a Facebook posting by an officer, who described his job as “human waste disposal.” The policy applies only to employees who identify themselves as APD employees. It also prohibits employees from posting any photographs of themselves in uniform and from discussing any ongoing investigation. The union is not thrilled with the new restrictions, according to this news report, available on YouTube.

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