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Social Media vs. Privacy Rights

February 1, 2015
Martin Halloran SFPOA President

Big Brother is Watching

This past December, the department issued Department Bulletin 14-267,  Social Media Policy. This DB addresses new grounds beyond DGO 10.07 and DGO 10.08. All members need to be aware that this DB will likely be amended within the next year. It is highly probable that the department will establish, in the very near future, a new DGO related to social media and information shared by members -- both on and off duty. 

In the October 2013 issue of the POA Journal, I authored an article related to this issue. The reason I brought this to the attention of the members then, and why I raise it again, is simply this; there is NO ANONYMITY when posting, texting, or messaging, while on duty, on a department issued mobile device, or a department computer. NONE!

Departments throughout the country are frantically establishing social media policies and procedures that are often nonsensical. Why? Those departments believe that they have to demonstrate to their Boards of Supervisors, City Counsels, Mayors, and the public that they are ahead of this new-media curve. I do not believe that is the situation in the SFPD. Chief Suhr's DB 14-267 is a fair and reasonable first step in this new and ever-evolving employer/employee arena.

 On the flip side, law enforcement associations are scrambling to get a handle on appropriate member defense premises. The violations are so new that many are not specifically jacketed as a defined offense, and officers across the nation are falling into "Conduct Unbecoming" rabbit holes. A case in point is SFPD DGO 2.01, Rule 1 through Rule 57. That's a lot of "conduct unbecoming an officer."

The POA will always defend a member accused of wrongdoing during the course and scope of his or her duties. That will never change as long as I am President. One of the challenges facing us now in the social media era is to determine what constitutes a member’s right of privacy in comparison to a nexus of that member’s communication in relation to his or her standing within the department. Big Brother is out there, and even though they maybe watching us, we (the POA) are also watching them …