Connecticut police warn officers about social media pitfalls

November 29, 2019 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Several Connecticut police departments are cautioning their officers to be careful of what they post on social media while off duty.

The directives come after several high-profile cases nationwide of police officers posting racist, homophobic or violent comments on personal social media pages, according to a story published Friday in the Hartford Courant.

“Remember that what you post and have posted can come back to haunt you,” Torrington Chief William Baldwin advised his officers in a May memo.

While officers have free speech rights, “we are more strictly scrutinized for everything,” he added.

Hartford interim Chief James Thody last month advised officers to review rules on social media because “public trust, faith and legitimacy are essential requirements to be an effective police officer.”

He warned that social media comments can be used to impeach an officer’s testimony in court, create distrust of an officer, and even end an officer’s career.

Hartford police are investigating an accusation that an officer in September shared a picture of a city intersection complaining of the “parasites” that passed through every day and suggesting someone “call in an airstrike.”

Cheshire, Meriden, Windsor and Windsor Locks are among the communities warning against comments “that ridicule, malign, disparage, bully or otherwise express bias against any race, religion or protected class of individuals.”

Dan Barrett, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, says police officers need to make sure they remain impartial and can treat everyone fairly.

Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, predicts all police departments will ultimately need specific social media rules.

Departments need to work with unions to establish guidelines that also protect First Amendment rights.

“The burden is ultimately on the employer to work collaboratively with the union to establish sensible social media guidelines,” said Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, a union that represents 2,000 officers in 40 Connecticut departments.


Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com