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Police Complaints Board Releases Report on DC Police Department's Personal Use of Social Media Policy

Monday, February 10, 2020
Board identifies the need for a new and more comprehensive policy for officers

WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham addressing concerns with MPD’s policy on the personal use of social media.

OPC often receives complaints from the public about MPD officers personal use of social media. The allegations in the complaints range from officers engaging in debates with community members over incidents of misconduct to personal disputes alleging defamation to social media posts purposely advocating for violence.  As a result of the complaints filed with OPC, the agency reviewed the Department’s current policy on personal use of social media.

MPD’s current guidance on personal use of social media for officers is highlighted in a brief section within their policy (General Order 302.08) that explains the rules and regulations on using network services (hardware, software, internet, email accounts) provided by the Department.  The policy, last updated in November 2013, prohibits officers from “bringing discredit upon themselves, MPD or the District of Columbia” and reminds members to be aware of the safety and security issues associated with publicly posting personal information.

The PCB is concerned about the complaints OPC received that allege unprofessional use of social media by MPD officers.  Inappropriately posting on social media sites has the potential to damage the Department’s relationship with the community and tarnish its reputation.

To address the concerns and to help improve community relations and trust between MPD and community members, the PCB recommends:

  • MPD should issue a comprehensive new stand-alone General Order on social media; and
     
  • MPD should create training for members on social media usage to support the new General Order.

“The Department’s current policy on social media for personal use provides basic guidance and procedures for officers to adhere to when posting on various social media sites,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director. “MPD needs a more comprehensive policy that will help officers understand what they can and cannot post within their First Amendment rights.”

To view the full report, visit https://policecomplaints.dc.gov/page/policy-recommendations.