A survival guide for cops on Facebook
The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that cops shouldn’t have personal profiles on Facebook
There are two words that should never be in the same sentence: Facebook and Privacy. The exceptions, of course, are if in the same sentence are other words like “don’t bet on it”, “not a chance” or “aint happenin’”.
This post isn’t about slamming Facebook. I wouldn’t do that, I’m a Facebook fan.
Nor is this a post about the stupid things some cops have done on Facebook which have caused embarrassment to their department, the compromising of a case, disciplinary action taken against them or even dismissal from their jobs.
This post is about being a cop, being on Facebook and not compromising your safety or that of your family members or co-workers in the process.
I’m a huge proponent of law enforcement using Facebook and all social media in the strategic ways that make sense for their departments and their roles within them. In these cases, officers should always be using professional profiles, department email addresses and official photos. When citizens can go to their police department’s Facebook page and see posts by, and interact with, real officers, it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s especially essential that the officers in the very public-facing roles (Community Police Units, SROs, K9, etc) have visible profiles, as appropriate, and leverage these tools to the fullest extent possible. I’ve seen success with Facebook use by homicide detectives and robbery sergeants as well, always in a professional role. But that’s where it ends.
In October of 2010, Phoenix Police made a DUI stop and discovered a CD with many photographs and names of more than 30 Phoenix police officers and civilian employees that had been culled from Facebook profiles and named as targets. On a flier distributed to law enforcement, posted here with permission, Phoenix PD’s Counterterrorism Unit advises to set profile settings to “friends only”. That’s a good first step. But it’s not enough. People who really want to harm you, like the people who create CD’s as described above, can still find you.
I hate to say it, but the time has come. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that cops shouldn’t have personal profiles on Facebook. I know it seems crazy coming from me. I also know that all you cops on Facebook probably won’t heed this advice and shut down your pages. So, I offer here an approach that will help guard your personal safety, and your kids’ safety, protect your career and keep the Chief off your back. Although, I could name a few chiefs who should heed this advice as well.
I have just three main points. but each has several sub-points:
1. Don’t mix personal with professional
1. Don’t mix personal with professional.
If you have a professional profile, keep it that way.
• Don’t friend the high school buddies, or especially any ex girlfriend or boyfriends. But also, don’t friend family members. Keep it completely professional, friend only co-workers and those citizens with whom you interact in the course of your work. This is hard to do, especially if you live in a small town.
On your personal profiles, you’re not a cop, seriously.
2. Figure out Facebook privacy settings.
• I can think of no good reason anyone would have settings at anything other than “friends only” let alone police officers.
3. Clean-up your (online) act
• Law enforcement has to smarten up about personal information
Keeping up with Facebook is a lot of work. But even if you master Facebook Privacy settings, do you have that warm fuzzy feeling that your information is really safe?
If you ever have a question don’t hesitate to let me know and stay safe out there, and online.
This article was previously published on ConnectedCOPS.net. Check ConnectedCOPS for more information on Facebook Safety.
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