Police Chief Publicly Disciplines Officers On Social Media

from the welcome-to-the-future dept

All too often, we discuss cases of apparent police abuse and instances of law enforcement organizations closing ranks around the abusers. Far too many stories of police destroying evidence of misconduct, massively dismissing complaints against officers, and the violation of some of our most basic rights as citizens have resulted in the permeation of a culture of mistrust. Now, despite these highlighted stories, I’m of the belief that the vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their admittedly difficult duties admirably. That said, when the organizational bureaucracies that run these fraternal orders undermine the public trust, even at a punctuated pace, the resulting public culture is immensely harmed. Citizens are demanding more transparency and accountability from their public servants, perhaps none more so than those that are charged with serving and protecting us.

Well, in an apparent attempt to meet that demand, one police chief in Dallas is taking to social media to publicly announce when his officers are disciplined.

Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown has fired or disciplined 27 officers and employees in the last year. And every time he brings down the hammer, he announces it on Facebook and Twitter, specifying exactly who the men and women are and what they did. On Dec. 30, it was five officers and a 911 call operator.

Each tweet and post outline what the nature of the misconduct was, the punishment, and always notes that the officers have rights as accused, including appeal. But don’t let that fool you. Chief Brown is very direct, very specific, and names the accused fully. For instance:

I’ll admit, this is an interesting way to achieve some transparency, and for those that might distrust or dislike law enforcement in general it may be a tantalizing policy to publicly shame such bad actors, but I’m not finding within me the desire to cheer gleefully for this type of thing. Public shaming is a powerful thing. And that’s true whether the accused ends up being guilty or innocent. I wonder if this might be a step too far. True, these officers are public servants, they work for us, and any effort at transparency to the public is a good thing, but I’m not certain there’s a great deal of value in this beyond a public spectacle and some feel-goods.

Feel-goods aren’t what we need. I’m more interested in more substantive reform to the entire relationship between LEOs and the public than forcing a few of them to wear the social media scarlet letter.

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Comments on “Police Chief Publicly Disciplines Officers On Social Media”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Related to that(and I’m not being sarcastic here I honestly don’t know offhand), but if a regular citizen was accused/charged with the actions being described in the article, are their names kept confidential as well, or is it a matter of public record?

If the names are kept confidential in the case of a citizen, I can certainly see waiting to post the names and charges until either the appeal comes back and upholds the charges, or they decide not to fight them, but if they’re made public, it only seems fair to treat both cop and citizen equally.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Been there done that and you don’t have any say that’s for sure. Though my crimes were drug related so I didn’t really care. My crime was trying to feel good and unfortunately it requires a lot of pain killers for me to achieve it. All I know is I wish I found out about Methadone clinics a lot sooner.

I’m still a junkie, always will be, but now I’m going about it the legal way.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I also believe that details of the public should be kept private until the case is decided in finality. Too often somebody is accused of something heinous, and because their details are splashed all over the papers in connection with their alleged offence, their names aren’t cleared in the minds of the public after the court has found them not guilty, and their careers are forever wrecked. Take Matthew Kelly, for example. He had a lot of TV work before he was arrested in 2003 as part of Operation Arundel, and now you very rarely see him on the screen.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Actually I think something like this could work quite well in helping the public trust the police, at least in that area.

It makes it abundantly clear that is you work for that department, and screw up badly enough(or abuse your authority bad enough), you will be punished, and people will find out about it, it won’t just be swept under the rug.

Between those two pieces, you’ve got plenty of incentive for those working at that department to be on their best behavior, and the public knows that bad actors will be punished, which would be excellent at restoring trust towards those that do deserve it.

wto605 (profile) says:

Is this "public shaming" really new?

Newspapers do this all the time: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/05/six-month_suspension_for_offic.html (I knew the URL says blog, but this did in fact appear in the Plain Dealer metro section). Heck, once they latch on to a name (or two) they continue to report on the individual(s): http://topics.cleveland.com/tag/david%20muniz/index.html. All while harping on how light the punishment was.

Honestly I think the bigger deal is that these officers are actually being punished, and the fact that it’s coming straight from the horses mouth on twitter makes (the individual) event less newsworthy.

wto605 (profile) says:

Re: Is this "public shaming" really new?

Thinking about this some more, I think this might actually be VERY good. I’m sure things are different when criminal elements are involved, but ensuring these events are in the public record is an important step to preventing the offending officers from sweeping them under the rug if they try to stay in the same line of work.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Actual firings

Agreed. The social media aspect is sort of superfluous compared to the fact that this chief actually fires cops for misconduct – that’s real, not “feel good”, and it’s something sorely missing in pretty much every case of abuse by cop we read about in Techdirt, so it should be the real take away, not the social media aspect.

Anonymous Coward says:

This publication of names sound a bit too much like political grandstanding like all anouncments where a sherrif or DA politician names criminals during the “trial” process.
sure name the offense and punishment, I see no problem telling the victim their tormentor is punished, but using tweets and other anouncement to further your own reputation when you punish others is borderline corrupt. the temptation is there to amp up the punishment to get better headlines,likes,etc

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Public shaming is a powerful thing. And that’s true whether the accused ends up being guilty or innocent.

Hopefully the police department is fairly sure of their guilt before terminating them. If not, that’s another problem. But the fact of their termination is still a fact, regardless. Just like the fact of someone’s arrest – the arrest can get reported on whether or not the person is guilty. And arrests are often not just posted to social media, but given press releases and photo opportunities. They’ll not only call the media, they’ll even redo the arrest if the media misses it.

True, these officers are public servants, they work for us, and any effort at transparency to the public is a good thing, but I’m not certain there’s a great deal of value in this beyond a public spectacle and some feel-goods.

But there’s also no downside (unless the person is innocent – but again, that’s another matter.) I do think that there is a responsibility to post any reinstatements in all of the same places that the original announcements were posted.

Joe says:

The (unfortunate) big difference between public and private employment

To quote, “Under Civil Service rules, SC Della has a right to appeal his discipline.”

And under private employment rules, SC Della would have a right to go pound sand.

Why does the public sector get such deference? Frankly, society would be better off if at at the merest whiff of impropriety, public sector employees were delegated to unemployment and pounding sand.

Khaim (profile) says:

Re: The (unfortunate) big difference between public and private employment

And who makes that decision? Whoever it is now has the power to fire whoever he wants. I’m all for firing public employees when they deserve it, but there needs to be enough checks and balances to make sure it’s actually deserved, and not just office politics or a personal vendetta.

Note that anti-discrimination laws do apply in the private sector; you can’t appeal, but you can sue. It would be nice if we could apply the full protections to private employment, but that gets a little more tricky, both morally and practically. The key difference is that the public sector is “us”, and we as a whole get to decide how it works; this doesn’t hold for private business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Getting in trouble with the boss tends to be more a function of whether an employee is considered more of a ‘loyalist’ or a whistle-blower. Those who call attention to incompetence or misbehavior of their superiors, or are judged as less than 100% loyal in any way, can always expect to receive poor job reviews and a greater likelihood of receiving disciplinary action. Sorry, but that’s just the way the real world works – and always has.

The “thin blue line” is no doubt stronger the higher up it goes in the command structure. Not surprisingly, there are no police officers (of any rank) who dare go on Facebook and Twitter to criticise Chief Brown.

Another big problem is that many police forces are unionized, and you can bet that any labor union is going to fight this or any other kind of discipline tooth and nail.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I have personal anecdotes of Union rules directly keeping bad actors on the job for the City. Maybe the union itself didn’t directly fight for them, but the rules they set up make it a very long process to get rid of somebody short of them committing a felony on the job.
And from everything I have ever read, the City unions are hardly unique in that respect.

As for directly fighting for bad actors, we were told afew years ago a local PD wanted to institute officer GPS tracking in each car for their CAD(dispatch) system. Both as a officer safety issue and mostly to help guide the closest car to the right point.
The union fought against this as a “privacy” issue, and it was never implemented. Maybe not exactly what you are talking about, but it definitely helped protect bad actors.

peter says:


If I was arrested, that is a matter of public record (and if I was a person of some note, the information of my arrest would somehow be found out by the newspapers and be splashed over headlines for the world to see.)

This is all as a result of some police investigation, but before I trial, guilt or even appeal.

Someone tell me how this is different?

rycho (profile) says:

Conduct Unbecoming

Many, if not most, professional associations (e.g. lawyers, accountants, etc.) have strict codes of conduct for members of the association. If a member is found to have breached the code, they’re brought before a panel/tribunal and the matter is usually publically published including the punishment. I don?t see why police officers should be any different to similar practices. Perhaps it should be compulsory for all employees?

Anonymous Coward says:

How is this any different from mug shots being posted online. Those are private citizens accused of a crime, but not yet convicted. These officers have already been “convicted” by their supervisor, so at least they’re one step ahead in the process than those in the mug shots. Individuals arrested are subject to having not only their name and crime of which they’re accused (not convicted), but also their picture along with it. Talk about public shaming! Remember, this culture of distrust came about because they’re not subject to the same as we citizens are. When someone accuses an officer of misconduct, that accusation falls into a black hole. That they know this only encourages more bad behavior. This way, not only is there public proof that the infractions are dealt with, but also there can be public debate.

I think this is how they ALL should work. Not just police officers, but all public servants.

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