Cincinnati Officers: New Social Media Policy

For my Ohio Cop users with Cincinnati Police, a new Social Media policy went into effect today that not only covered agency utilization of social media outlets, but personnel use as well. In sum, the policy doesn't restrict use of social media any more than what the courts have restricted officer's free speech; well, maybe not section (j).

Policy 14.205 (D) Personal Use of Social Media

Precautions and Prohibitions - Barring state law or binding employment contracts to the contrary, Department personnel shall abide by the following when using social media.

a. Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships in the Department for which confidentiality is important; does not impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among coworkers, or negatively affect the public perception of the Department.

b. As public employees, Department personnel are cautioned that speech on- or off-duty, made pursuant to their official duties, that owes its existence to the employee’s professional duties and responsibilities, is not protected speech under the First Amendment and may form the basis for discipline if deemed detrimental to the Department. Department personnel should assume that their speech and related activity on social media sites will reflect upon their office and this Department.

c. Department personnel shall not post, transmit, or otherwise disseminate any information, including photos, documents, etc., to which they have access as a result of their employment without written permission from the chief or his/her designee.

d. For safety and security reasons, Department personnel are cautioned not to disclose their employment with the Department nor shall they post information pertaining to any other member of the Department without his/her permission. As such, Department personnel are cautioned not to do the following:
  • Display Department logos, uniforms, or similar identifying items on personal web pages.
  • Post personal photographs or provide similar means of personal recognition that may cause them to be identified as a police officer of this Department. Officers who are, or who may reasonably be expected to work in undercover operations, are cautioned not post any form of visual or personal identification.
e. When using social media, Department personnel should be mindful that their speech becomes part of the worldwide electronic domain. Therefore, Department personnel should be mindful of the standards imposed by the Department’s code of conduct prior to engaging in any social media, which could be construed as reflecting poorly on Department personnel or the Department. In particular, Department personnel should be aware of the standards created by the Department code of conduct with regard to the following:
  • Speech containing obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements or other forms of speech that ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race, any religion, or any protected class of individuals.
  • Speech involving themselves or other Department personnel reflecting behavior that would reasonably be considered reckless or irresponsible.
f. Engaging in prohibited speech noted herein, may provide grounds for undermining or impeaching an officer’s testimony in criminal proceedings. Department personnel thus sanctioned are subject to discipline up to and including termination of office as specified in the collective bargaining agreement.

g. Department personnel may not divulge information gained by reason of their authority; make any statements, speeches, appearances, and endorsements; or publish materials that could reasonably be considered to represent the views or positions of this Department without approval.

h. Department personnel should be aware that they may be subject to civil litigation for
  • Publishing or posting false information that harms the reputation of another person, group, or organization (defamation)
  • Publishing or posting private facts and personal information about someone without their permission that has not been previously revealed to the public, is not of legitimate public concern, and would be offensive to a reasonable person
  • Using someone else’s name, likeness, or other personal attributes without that person’s permission for an exploitative purpose
  • Publishing the creative work of another, trademarks, or certain confidential business information without the permission of the owner
i. Department personnel should be aware that privacy settings and social media sites are constantly in flux, and they should never assume that personal information posted on such sites is protected.

j. Department personnel should expect that any information created, transmitted, downloaded, exchanged, or discussed in a public online forum may be accessed by the Department at any time without prior notice.
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