Having a Plan in Place: Law Enforcement and the Need for a Clearly Defined Social Media Policy




Hamilton, Curtis

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Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT)



With the ever increasing use of social media by law enforcement personnel, both personally and professionally, a comprehensive social media policy needs to be present within law enforcement agencies. A social media policy allows law enforcement agencies to maintain a “branded” image that is portrayed to the public by providing clear guidance to employees as to what exactly can be posted on social media with relation to the agency. This also provides protections to both the employee and the agency with regard to the content associated with the agency’s brand. A social media policy also includes acceptable use standards for public interaction and legitimate investigation, providing clear guidance for agency employees. Following a social media policy allows an agency and its employees to use social media in a manner that will be socially and legally acceptable. With a government entity limiting the speech of its employees, a counter-argument could be made that limiting employee speech infringes upon the first amendment rights of the employee. Fortunately, the courts have weighed in with regard to what speech is protected and provided guidance on protected speech. Speech that is directly related to working conditions is protected, while derogatory speech, which causes real harm and not related to working conditions, can be regulated by the employer. The use of social media is also so widespread that a social media policy could be so cumbersome as to be ineffective. Social media has been around long enough, however, that several agencies, and the IACP, have designed social media policies that can be used as examples for departments seeking to design their own.


Police-Community relations, Police and mass media, social media