Within one week, multiple news outlets have been reporting about violent, racist, or sexist photos, videos, memes, and comments made by police officers on Facebook.
For years, we have been advocating that law enforcement agencies need to do more in terms of how their employees use social media on a personal level.
Most agencies have a policy that, in our opinion, is pretty archaic and does little to protect both the department from future embarrassment and the officer from discipline. Additionally, most of these policies do not offer any leeway or guidance for employees who want to post a positive experience or message about their profession or department.
We believe employees should receive formal training about a myriad of topics surrounding social media and it’s use and impact on both personal and professional levels, and the officer-safety aspect everyone needs to keep in mind.
Bad Social Media By Cops
Unbelievably within the same week, three articles have come to light about what cops are saying and doing on social media. Like it or not, the general public is not liking the comments, pictures, and videos that are being posted by men and women who are sworn to serve the public. In short, the “cops troubling Facebook posts” have been revealed.
In the June 4, 2019 print of The New York Times, author Shaila Dewan wrote an article titled “When Police Officers Vent On Facebook,” which is about Emily Baker-White‘s discovery of racist and shocking behavior by law enforcement officers on Facebook. Baker-White is the originator of The Plain View Project, or PVP, for short. A review of the Facebook accounts of thousands of officers around the US found officers endorsing violence against Muslims, women, and criminal defendants.
The PVP is a database containing several law enforcement officer’s social media activities. It reveals those officers’ accounts, comments, and photos or video posts.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: Right now, cops are probably rushing to the website to see if they’re in the database. By placing your name in the search field, we do not know if your search inquiry is recorded or cataloged, in hopes of learning of more and more officer’s accounts. Use this at your own risk.
In addition to this article in the NYT and the PVP, popular online news outlet, BuzzFeed News, collaborated with Injustice Watch, to write an article about the inappropriate behavior of police officers on Facebook.
Think about that for a minute. That’s a total of four sources on the internet that are bringing this issue to light, and with the proliferation of social media and blogs, is not going to die anytime soon. We imagine every credible news source, police news websites, and cop hater groups are going to be writing about this problem.
“It’s unfortunate that some times, people use social media for good and bad. When police officers post bad things, it polarizes or perpetuates a growing trend of negative perceptions of law enforcement amongst the community.”by Ryan Tillman, Founder of Breaking Barriers United
The Advocating Of A Police Beating And More
According to the PVP database, they have uncovered Facebook posts that advocate violent behavior by law enforcement officers, racial comments, and the abuse of women.
As members of the law enforcement community ourselves, we understand the context of what some believe is a morbid sense of humor to cope with the stress of the job. It doesn’t mean we condone it; it just means we get the meaning. We’re sure doctors and nurses joke or complain about patients, just like every other profession has their moments of venting frustration in a way that could seem offensive to others. We highly doubt though, that these other professions are endorsing death or pain to those who cause them grief in their day-to-day work.
For example, a popular meme with the words, “fuck the police” so I said, “fuck your 911 call, I’ll get to your dying homeboy when I finish my coffee” has made its rounds on social media.
What this post means to cops is this; the police are frequently berated or encounter resistance from the same people who won’t hesitate to pick up the phone when they need the cops’ help. Again, we don’t condone it, but we understand the underlying message.
In terms of racist comments and violence and sexual assault among women, there is zero-tolerance for this conduct. Law enforcement officers using social media that we know are offended by this conduct.
Ryan Tillman, a police officer in Southern California, is trying to change teen perceptions of law enforcement, through his company Breaking Barriers United. He is a school resource officer and a victim of negative police contact himself.
“It’s unfortunate that some times, people use social media for good and bad. When police officers post bad things, it polarizes or perpetuates a growing trend of negative perceptions of law enforcement amongst the community.”
Ryan has had fellow police officers leave negative comments on his social media posts, eluding to the fact that police work is more about hunting down suspects, then community policing.
“A lot of times people forget, just because we’re police officers, doesn’t mean we’re not people. A small percentage of police officers probably shouldn’t be police officers because of the bad decisions they make. Often, the public is made to believe it’s a larger percentage or a huge epidemic.”
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of law enforcement officers using social media positively to show what they experience daily. Their accounts are humorous in that they make fun of themselves or the quirky things cops do, as well as enlightening the general public in terms of what they see and do every day.
So What Has Caused This Behavior?
We believe this outright display of anger, sarcasm, and unprofessional online conduct, has been created by a math formula with the combination of these elements; our online culture, the slanted reporting on law enforcement activities and officers, the passage of laws which benefit the criminal, the lack of holding others accountable for their actions, and a lack of training.
First, the culture created by the public for what is now the “norm” on social media, and the tolerance by the individual social media platforms themselves, is a big part of the problem. This culture has led people to believe they can pretty much say whatever they want, as long as it is not a direct threat or advocation of a crime, on social media. People can be rude, argumentative, degrading, abusive, angry, and confrontational without any form of accountability.
Some people are consistently leaving negative, unwarranted, disgusting comments on police Facebook pages solely to embarrass or belittle the department or officers, knowing nothing will happen to them. In fact, in many cases, the comments must be left up for the world to see, as people claim a First Amendment right to say whatever they want on a government social media post.
Next, there are slanted media outlets, blogs, advocates, and so-called “watchdog” groups whose sole intent is to make police officers look like fools, and that the cops have no concept of how to enforce the laws. You’ve probably seen the posts or videos that start with, “Cop gets owned” or “Police get owned.” Photos and videos like these can add more fuel to an officer’s anger. Ironically, an officer’s anger is the same anger an employee at a fast food restaurant, a retail store, a plumber, a doctor, or a nurse would experience if people were doing the same to their professions.
Then you have laws which reward the criminal for their behavior and place the law abiding citizen and police officers at risk. You may remember the video of Mark Robinson at a North Carolina council meeting where he said the majority “are the first one’s taxed, the last ones considered, and the first one’s punished when things like this (shootings) happen.”
We have a lack of accountability today, for those doing crimes in our society. How many articles have you read where politicians, to include district attorneys, have publicly said they aren’t going to file charges against people for certain crimes?
Californians joke about the fact it’s legal to have a hypodermic needle for easier use of illegal drugs, but be a waiter and give someone a plastic straw and your ass is going to have charges placed on you.
Last is a lack of training we mentioned in the opening of this article and described below. When you add these factors up, it’s no wonder why cops are quite frankly, pissed off. They’re stressed, over-worked, underpaid, unhealthy, injured and society keeps beating the crap out of them.
Facebook Training For Police Officers
Although we single out Facebook in the title of this section, we could just as quickly have called it “Instagram Training For Police Officers,” or “Twitter Training For Police Officers,” and so forth. If these articles in The New York Times and Buzzfeed are not enough to convince law enforcement agencies across the nation to provide legitimate training on the use of social media by their employees, then we don’t know what will. We can tell you that Injustice Watch spent months reviewing the Facebook posts by police and have been looking into how police departments regulate their police officers use of social media.
The training we’re suggesting needs to be more than just the reading of the policy or the chief telling the officers not to post anything “bad” on social media. It goes farther than that, such as:
- The social media eco-system; What happens, where does it go, and who can see what you post on social media
- How the official police department and police officer social media pages, and personal Facebook profiles, have an effect on a department’s image and the profession as a whole
- How police officers can secure their social media accounts to ensure privacy and safety
- The long-term and damaging effects a “humorous” social media post can have on the individual officer, and the department
Let’s correct this behavior and look like the professional, strong, determined, compassionate, and intelligent police officers this country expects and deserves.
We Need To Police Ourselves
Law enforcement is a profession. We have a higher standard of ethics and behavior than most other jobs, and most definitely more elevated than the general public. For those using social media, you do not have the luxury of enjoying the First Amendment like the rest of the country. There are policies and the law enforcement code of ethics which regulate your conduct and speech.
Want to instill anger in those who hate you as a police officer? You can do it very quickly by doing the following:
When either online or in person, be an exemplary, professional, educated, compassionate role model adhering to the policies of your department and the code of ethics. You’ll be living up to that “higher standard” which your critics can never attain.