Less than two weeks ago, I wrote about a police officer who was forced to resign for a racist Facebook rant in regards to Michael Brown and the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. You’d think that officers of the law would learn. The vast, overwhelming majority are smart enough not to post anything like this.
And so, today’s blog entry takes us to Elgin, Illinois, and specifically former police officer Jason Lentz. Officer Lentz was recently fired after making the above Facebook post to his personal page. In the post, he shared a Fox News story which featured the release of the survaillence video of Michael Brown supposedly robbing a cigar store, with the caption, “Hmm…innocent victim my ass. Did society a favor”
REALLY. Really? Even if Brown robbed the store, which has never been confirmed, this officer apparently thinks that deadly force is an acceptable remedy to a strong arm robbery. I’m not sure what planet he lives on, but I do know that I wouldn’t want him policing my community.
Thankfully, the police force of Elgin agrees. Officer Lentz was placed on administrative leave starting August 26, then fired last week for violation of Elgin’s employee code of conduct. Lentz was found to have committed “conduct that would undermine the credibility of the city or employees.” He also violated the city’s social media policy.
Said Elgin Police Chief Jeffrey Swoboda:
Our relationship with the community is based upon trust. When an officer violates this trust, action must be taken.
Unsurprisingly, this was the fourth time that Officer Lentz found himself in official trouble, and the above Facebook post was one of about a dozen that was used against Lentz.
This entire story shows the real need for every government – and certainly every police department – to have an active and legally vetted social media policy. Public employees have an obligation to use social media in a reasonable and responsible way, and comments like the one Lentz made can undermine the trust of a community. To that end, it is completely appropriate, in my opinion, that a government agency have a policy which prohibits comments like the ones Lentz made. The trick, of course, is finding that balance between free speech and guarding against inappropriate comments. Racism and sexism are one thing, but what about comments which rail against a current administration – that’s free speech, and I don’t think anyone should be able to regulate that kind of commentary.
Indeed, that’s a real struggle when it comes to how public employees use social media on their own time. It’s an extremely difficult line to draw. Do you have any thoughts on where you draw that line? Let me know in the comments!