How can social network profiles affect a career in law enforcement?

The advent of social networking sites like Facebook have radically changed the way people interact with each other.  They can also have a serious impact on a career in law enforcement. 

A recent New York Times article related an incident in which one police officer jeopardized his career in law enforcement by posting his Facebook profile job  description as “Human waste disposal”.  The officer was placed on desk duty and seriously reprimanded for this breach of judgment.  The department for which he works has since introduced new rules governing officer use of social networking sites, including prohibiting officers from identifying themselves as law enforcement employees or posting photos of any official police insignia.

Another story about social networking affecting a career in law enforcement recounts an incident where weapons charges were dismissed against a suspect after the arresting officer posted negative comments about his attitude on his Facebook page, citing that he had just watched the movie ‘Training Day’ to prepare for work.  Another officer posted photos of himself flanked by a skull with the description ‘The Punisher’.  This information was put forth as evidence of his character in a case that went before the state supreme court and no doubt had a negative effect on his career in law enforcement.

One would think that common sense would do a relatively good job of governing how social networking can affect a career in law enforcement, yet many people just don’t seem to get it.  Officers are continuously reprimanded for all sorts of breaches, including posting photos of tattoos on private body parts and posting photos of crime scenes, arrests and evidence. One officer was fired after he posted a video of himself stripping off his uniform on an online sex site.

Whether you’re already a police officer, or are just considering a career in law enforcement, you should be aware that there are serious ramifications to everything you post on any social networking site.  From derogatory comments, to lewd photos to bad jokes, everything you say and do can and will be used against you.  Never impulsively post anything of a controversial nature without considering the career ramifications of your actions.

Until all police agencies compile comprehensive rules of conduct for posting on sites like Facebook, officers will continue to make mistakes that will have a bad effect on their career in law enforcement. Don’t become one of those social networking casualties.

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