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The Role of Social Media in Law Enforcement Liability

Posted on: October 7, 2015 by Aegis General

As social media use is an integral part of personal and professional communication, employers must regulate the content shared in order to ensure its compliance with civil, federal, and fiduciary law. While differentiating between personal and professional use can be tricky, finding a balance of appropriate social media etiquette is critical. As this issue becomes more prominent, Insurance for the Public Sector is an essential component in protecting your agency’s daily operations.

For agency use, there should be current policies that provide clear guidance to those posting and pushing out department information, and requirements and prohibitions should be explicit, according to Law and Order Magazine. Experts recommend assigning the role of social media updates to someone who is well informed on the type of information that is permitted to be posted and who will seek additional approval for those sensitive topics, such as updates on a criminal investigation. Command level personnel should review the posting for accuracy, appropriateness, spelling and grammar.

Another recommendation is reviewing a potential candidate’s personal social media accounts to identify and evaluate important hiring issues including binge drinking, racism, violence, character and judgment.

For individual use, employers must respect the First Amendment rights of free speech. That being said, employees have the right to speak on behalf of public concern matters and even blow the whistle. However, law enforcement officials’ rights vary slightly from a typical citizen. In the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, the U.S. Supreme Court maintained “When public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.”

Therefore, law enforcement officials should be mindful of the statements and images they post on social media in order to avoid additional liability concerns. Learning to maintain a balance of respecting constitutional rights and the integrity of the officer is a difficult line to straddle. Clear regulations and rules should be taught and applied to officials in order to reduce mitigation, liability, and severe penalties.

At Aegis General Insurance Agency, we are dedicated to protecting law enforcement agencies. Our specialized programs are tailored to protect the unique needs of the industry at competitive rate. To learn more, contact our specialists today at (866) 662-5752.

Posted in: blog Public Entity Insurance