Do Police Need Social Media Sensitivity Training?

This week, two police departments have taken steps to manage the social media behavior of their officers.

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The recent events in Ferguson, Mo., have put police departments everywhere under added public scrutiny. This week, two cities have taken action to manage police behavior on their most public beat: online.

Police officials in the Chicagoland city of Elgin have announced that one of their officers has been suspended with pay following “objectionable statements made on a personal social media website.”

The Chicago Tribune reported today that Officer Jason Lentz had posted several incendiary responses to news reports involving police officers on his personal Facebook page, including this response to an article alleging that Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown had stolen from a local convenience store:

“Hmmm … innocent victim my ass. Did society a favor.”

On Tuesday, the New York Post reported that the NYPD enrolled some of its commanding officers in “Twitter school” training sessions at a local college. These are likely in response to a recent series of social media PR snafus surrounding the department.

Materials circulated during class emphasize the importance of using common sense when using social media and encourage officers to help bolster public perception by posting useful information like street closures rather than comment on investigations.

We’re glad to see departments are working to establish guidelines surrounding social media. Each of these cases is a reminder that what we post online isn’t as private as we think, and police officers online are being watched just as closely as the jurisdictions they oversee. If America’s police are serious about managing their public perception and taking steps to sooth tense relationships, establishing a knowledgeable and cooperative presence on social channels is a worthy place to start.