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Kathleen O'Toole
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole issued a new social media policy today for police officers and other department employees — including a section that lays down rules for their personal use of social media.

The move follow a series of high-profile incidents in which Seattle police officers were found to have posted racially charged comments on Facebook and other social media.

“The Seattle Police Department is working tirelessly to rebuild community trust and restore pride in our organization,” writes O’Toole in a post outlining the new policies on the SPD Blotter site. “It’s unfortunate that behavior on social media by a few has contributed to the erosion of our collective efforts.”

Here’s an excerpt from the new rules, related to personal use of social media.

5.125-POL 2 – Employee Personal Use of Social Media

This policy covers employee personal use of social media affecting the workplace and/or the Department’s ability to perform its public mission.

The Department recognizes the role that social media plays in the personal lives of some Department employees. However, the personal use of social media can have bearing on employees in their official capacity as they are held to a high standard by the community.

Engaging in prohibited speech outlined in this policy may provide grounds for discipline and may be used to undermine or impeach an officer’s testimony in legal proceedings.

  1. Employees Shall Not Post Speech That Negatively Impacts the Department’s Ability to Serve the Public

Employees may express themselves as private citizens on social media sites as long as employees do not:

– Make, share, or comment in support of any posting that includes harassment, threats of violence, or similar inappropriate conduct

– Make, share, or comment in support of any posting that ridicules, maligns, disparages, expresses bias, negative connotations, or disrespect toward any race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other protected class of individuals

– Make, share, or comment in support of any posting that suggests that Department personnel are engaged in behavior reasonably considered to be unlawful or reckless toward public safety

– Otherwise violate any law or SPD policy

Employees are responsible for the content of their social media accounts. Employees shall make reasonable efforts to monitor their accounts so that postings made by others on their accounts conform to this policy.

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