Local police departments review social media policies

CLEVELAND -- The Kansas City Police Department disciplined one of their officers for posting a false photo of Michael Brown to his personal Facebook page with the caption saying "Michael Brown is a pillar of the Ferguson community."

While some claim he has free speech, WKYC tracked down the social media policies of some local police departments to see if our officers are held to a higher standard.

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The four-page policy for the Cleveland Police Department. Included in it is a ban on posting anything that lowers the esteem of the police in the eyes of the public.

Other jurisdictions we spoke with have similar policies but know it's a tricky thing because of some of the good that comes with social media.


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With almost 160,000 Facebook followers on his department's page, Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver will be the first to say how beneficial social media can be for police.

"This job is important with trust in the community and what we've done with our social media has helped us to build trust," said Oliver.

Oliver says their posts are transparent but not inflammatory, a policy that is also enforced on officer's personal pages.

"No matter if it's on social media or anyplace else they don't want to do anything on social media to jeopardize our reputation and guiding principles," said Oliver.

While some departments have a specific social media policy, others enforce the same rules under a broader policy.

"We expect them to conduct themselves off duty as well as on duty, and anything that would obviously be illegal or anything that would put the department or the city in a negative light would violate the policy, but we don't have a specific social media policy," said Mike Kilbane, Independence chief of police.

When we posed the question on Facebook, many of our viewers said the officers should have free speech to say what they want.

"I understand the free speech issues," said Oliver. "I understand all of that, but when you are a police officer you are held to a higher standard."

Oliver says they work too hard to build up the trust to have one of their officers tear that down with a dumb post.

"Fire can heat your house, it can keep you warm and it can cook your food, but if it gets out-of-control it can burn you down," said Oliver. "And the same thing with social media. They can be good but out of control, it could hurt you."

Oliver says the tensions in Ferguson right now are a prime reason why trust is needed between the officers and the community they serve. He says that's why they have a social media policy.

We've gathered a couple of the local social media policies from the area.

Each of the jurisdictions we spoke with say they have not had any officers break the policy.

Follow WKYC's Wale Aliyu on Twitter: @WaleAliyu


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