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April 19, 2012
Off-Duty Police Imperiled on Social Media
With people of all estates flocking to social media, whom do you figure probably should not be using the new communication channels? Off-duty police officers may come to mind. The Arizona Republic has a lengthy story on the hazards of police officers tweeting and Facebooking, that is, of the images they may create thereon. An interesting PR situation, indeed. "If you can educate your members not to be on social media," one consultant advises police departments, "do."  

Police departments are expanding their codes of conduct to include social media. The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a model SM policy in August 2010 noting that sworn and civilian police employees "should be mindful that their speech becomes part of the worldwide electronic domain." Thus the men and women who protect our safety and rights ought to be careful about using Internet speech channels themselves.

Stacey Dillon, president of Public Safety Authority Medias in Mesa, AZ, and the consultant quoted above, says that participation by off-duty police officers on social media has "opened up a wealth of investigations that have been unnecessary and have created tremendous issues for the livelihood of front-line officers."

The Republic's story indicates that trying to write social media policies to cover police and other public employees off-duty is indeed a challenge in a rapidly evolving area of law and public policy.  

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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