The Philadelphia Police Department says 72 police officers have been taken off the streets, placed on desk duty and are being investigated for racist and violent social media posts. Closer to home, the Desert Hot Springs Police chief Dale Mondary resigned after lewd texts and social media posts came to light, this despite cell phone use and social media policy being strict.
Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes says their policy is based on a simple rule, “They are to adhere to our policies in regards to remaining professional not only on duty but off duty.”
He says if any of their officers show bias against a certain group, or post anything that does not align with their policies they can be placed under investigation, and their actions can have serious consequences on investigations and trial, “Whatever they can say or post or even just like … something that’s very negative or very biased or discriminatory and if they like it … it almost gives the appearance that they support that so all that can come back in a courtroom down the road.”
Attorney Skye Daley says officers using personal cell phones on the job in general is a bad idea, “There are a lot of examples out there in which police officers have had to turn over their private cell phones pursuant to a subpoena in a court order because the defense has successfully argued that there might be exculpatory evidence on the phone.”
He says also images of evidence taken on cell phones are a problem, “Cell phones are very powerful these days .. you have the ability to edit photos, even just using a filter can change the image significantly, there’s also questions on whether or not that it’s been tampered with in other ways between the time the photograph was taken and when the photograph ended up in the hands of the prosecutors.”
Chief Reyes says his department avoids this by issuing digital cameras to every officer, “And we’ve been doing this for 10 years now so this is nothing new.”
Despite the dark side, Chief Reyes acknowledges the power of social media for good, like doing Facebook lives during their community meetings, “These social media platforms allows us to share with a bunch of people that are unable to get to those meetings and keep people informed.”
Bottom line Daley says officers are held to a higher standard for many reasons and doing their job effectively is not always about the law, “It’s a question about optics, it’s a question about public relations and it’s a question about public trust.”