Facebook police database

Philly police social media policy: Here’s every rule officers’ Facebook posts may have violated

The department’s directive hasn’t been updated since Blackberrys were a thing.

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The Philadelphia Police Department is investigating the social media activity of some officers after questionable Facebook posts were published as part of a national database last week. So far, the fallout has reportedly led to 10 officers being placed on desk duty.

While details of the internal investigation have not been released, the department has pointed to its social media policy for its 6,500 uniformed officers.

What does it say? Taken at face value, a lot of the content allegedly posted by some 330 active Philly officers appears to violate the rulebook.

The policy directive itself was created in 2011 — and last revised in July 2012. It still mentions Blackberry phones as the main example of a mobile device.

The seven-year-old guidelines cover the basics of acceptable conduct online. Like employees at many organizations, police officers are prohibited from posting on social media while on the clock. There are also reiterations of common sense (don’t post anything that might break a law), as well as law enforcement-specific rules (don’t post pictures of undercover officers).

Here are some of the more relevant policies, and how they may have been violated by individual posts.

No slurs, profanity, discriminatory language — or even personal insults

Actual policy: “Employees are prohibited from using ethnic slurs, profanity, personal insults; material that is harassing, defamatory, fraudulent, or discriminatory, or other content or communications that would not be acceptable in a City workplace under City or agency policy or practice.”

Was it violated?

This is the most glaring of the possible policy violations by officers cited in the Facebook post database. The language of the directive — which could basically encompass anything from curse words to racial epithets — covers a broad range of activity.

A Billy Penn review of the database shows that while some Philly officers’ posts and comments are relatively tame, the more egregious ones used overtly racist language to describe people of color, immigrants and Muslims. With even higher frequency, current and former officers advocated or openly fantasized about extrajudicial violence against criminal suspects, left-wing protesters, and billionaire George Soros.

What you post on social media can be used against you in court

Actual policy: “There is no reasonable expectation of privacy when engaging in social networking online. As such, the content of social networking websites may be obtained for use in criminal trials, civil proceedings, and departmental investigations.”

Was it violated?

This doesn’t appear to be so much a rule as it is a reminder — one that may come back to haunt officers cited in the database. Earlier this week, District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office would use the report to assess bias among city cops.

In a Radio Times interview, the top prosecutor gave an example. If an officer who’d advocated on Facebook for Muslim extermination was involved in a criminal case with a Muslim defendant, Krasner speculated, he’d present the post as evidence to a judge. That judge would then make the decision of whether the officer was too biased to testify.

Don’t post anything that would violate the city’s sexual harassment policy

Actual policy: “Employees are prohibited from displaying sexually explicit images, cartoons, jokes, messages or other material that would be considered in violation of the City Policy Preventing Sexual Harassment in City Government.”

Was it violated?

No city agency has seen more sexual harassment scandals than the Philadelphia Police Department. While the Plain View Project database does contain commentary on sexually explicit themes and criminal misconduct, few of the posts identified veered into the territory of overt sexual harassment between parties.

Some of the content could certainly be questionable within the framework of the city’s workplace harassment policy. In one post, made a day after the 2019 Women’s March, several officers traded jokes and memes about telling women to “make me a sandwich, bitch.”

Don’t use your status as a police officer to make endorsements

Actual policy: “Employees are prohibited from using their status as members of the police department to endorse any product or service without prior written permission from the Police Commissioner or their designee.”

Was it violated?

You might think this applies to political endorsements — many officers share those freely on their Facebook pages — but “product or service” appear to be the key terms here. We couldn’t find any examples of police using their status as officers to make endorsements of businesses or entrepreneurs.

Want some more? Explore other Facebook police database stories.

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