Use your professional judgment, when you’re on the beat and when you Tweet
Police Commissioner Kelly of the NYPD recently released an Operations Order for the use of Social Media. I must admit that when I first got my hands on it I approached it with some skepticism, fearing the Department might choose to prohibit all use of social media outlets by uniformed members of service.
I was pleasantly surprised that, much like we recommended in our thesis (completely coincidentally,) the Commissioner recognized that shutting down all social media use for 40,000 New Yorkers is unrealistic. Instead, he chose to view the use of social media as many people have come to view it today – a virtual extension of ourselves. And if Police Officers are expected to behave a certain way on and off duty, the same etiquette, professionalism and good judgment apply on Facebook or Twitter (OK, maybe he did read our thesis!)
Without revealing the whole document, some good points are made that hopefully will resonate with most UMOS:
Urged not to disclose their status – It is wise to caution UMOS to keep their professional life and personal life separate, but what really struck me here was the use of the word “urge” as opposed to prohibiting it altogether. Again, this demonstrates an understanding that a person can’t be too separated from his or her online persona, and if being a cop is a big part of your life, your Facebook profile may reflect that.
No Photos in uniform, excluding promotions, ceremonies etc – fair enough. Though it might be nice for the community to get a glimpse into some visuals of a “day in the life” of an officer, when you are dealing with such a large department under constant scrutiny, an inappropriate photo may very quickly make the rounds and find itself under a snarky headline in the Post.
No communications with Minors, witnesses, perps, lawyers etc – Well, obviously. But there are people who still forget that social media interactions can be documented, saved and eventually used as evidence. There may be a few officers out there who think that by using their personal social media profile to talk to an informant they are being more discrete than chatting on the phone or on the street. They aren’t.
Commands and units are prohibited from operating individual accounts or pages – We are strong supporters of decentralizing communications to the precinct level at the NYPD. Residents of the Upper West Side and Residents of Park Slope need different information and should be able to access it through localized, geographically based NYPD pages. However, in the past commands have opened up individual Facebook pages, many just becoming a hub for retired cops to chat and rant. Any curious resident who would choose to follow his or her local precinct might be getting invitations to department picnics and rants about overtime instead of essential, local information.
Hopefully, the next step will be opening precinct level social media accounts that will become neighborhood information hubs and will allow officers to become more accessible and familiar to residents. These would have to be regulated to some extent by 1PP, but the process needs to start soon. The Department might not be in a rush to get its social media presence optimized, but the residents of NYC are already fluent in the medium and are ready to chat.