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Freedom of speech may have consequences. By Steve Albrecht

Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department from 1984 to 1999. His books include Contact & Cover (C.C. Thomas); Streetwork; Surviving Street Patrol; and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops (all for Paladin Press). He can be reached at G

They also wrongly believe that as long as both sender and receiver delete it, it’s gone, not thinking that it stays on the server forever.

According to a survey by Career- Builder, half of U.S. employers monitor employee Internet use and one-third monitor e-mails. Monitoring text mes- sages and instant messaging is on the rise, too. According to Proofpoint, one in five employers has disciplined an employee for violating social media policies and 10 percent have terminated an employee for it.

ive cops smartphones and computers with Internet access and let the fun begin. “It’s a free country,” some will say, “I can write, text, tweet, or post any- thing I choose. It is my right to say what I want, yea or nay, good, bad, or indifferent, about my job, my Chief, my bosses, my partners, my co-workers, my drinking habits, my dating or married life, and anything about the people I arrest.”

Both of these statements are true: It is a free country and you can say what you want, about what you want, to whom you want. But the truer statement is there are career and reputation-threatening consequences (or there should be) to what hurtful or revealing things you do or say on department e-mail and personal social media.

Is freedom of speech at work a Constitutionally protected right? It depends. If your agency has no written policy about e-mail use, using department-issued phones, making personal phone calls, or sending personal texts while on duty, privacy expectations, the use of audits and inspections, or on- and off-duty social media usage, then you’re not only putting your department at risk, but it’s diffi cult to use discipline when it may be required if there is no policy. This is the age where some of your cops are viewing YouTube videos, tweeting on Twitter, and updating their Facebook, even as they drive from call to call. You need an updated, expansive, and enforced department Internet and social media use policy. (Imagine the liability your department would face if a copper was found to be texting his girlfriend on the way to a call in which he hit and killed somebody. The media and the plaintiff’s attorney would be all over that lapse in judgment.) There should be no expectation of privacy for your sworn and non-sworn employees whenever they are using your agency’s Internet servers, accounts, lines, e-mails, or department-issued cell phones. Most departments put up a warning screen when employees first log on, reminding all users about careful use, no privacy expectations, and the right to inspection and audit, but these are often ignored.

Some people rationalize that because of the sheer volume of electronic mes- sages, their harmless e-mail to a pal about how one of the captains is the Village Idiot won’t ever get read by anyone other than the intended receiver.

8 LAW and ORDER I July 2015

Courts have not given a definitive an- swer on expectations of privacy when we issue a cop a phone for both on-duty use and allow off-duty use, too. Your policies should be clear:

“If you use our computers, mobile data terminals, tablets, or we issue you a smartphones and/or you access our internal or external Internet Service Provider, what you create, send, down- load, or read is subject to audit, inspec- tion, and may need to be released for valid public records requests or federal Freedom of Information Act requests, to the public or the media.

“You should use your own personal phone for your personal business, not ours. Be careful what you say, even on your personal social media accounts. Anything that is derogatory, confi dential, or overly revealing could get captured by a civil or criminal attorney in one of your cases and used against you.”

In other words, if they don’t want to see it published in the local papers or on the big screen in a courtroom, they shouldn’t write it, send it, or download it. Your policy should reflect your abil- ity to use discipline to enforce this.

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