Until recently, Mike Halstead was the police chief of Sun City, North Carolina. That changed when Halstead abruptly retired following the following Facebook note that the outgoing Chief made about the Black Lives Matter movement:
Often, there is ambiguity in a Facebook status – a possible alternative interpretation which could lend credence to the argument that the author didn’t mean the post in any racially inflammatory way. Here, that’s simply not the case. Later in the note, Halstead says that he instructs his officers to “shoot a thug” if necessary, and referring to a movement fighting for racial equality as “an American born terrorist group” is simply, and clearly, racist.
Unsurprisingly, this note resulted in the end of former Chief Halstead’s career. The end came at an emergency meeting called by Sun City Mayor Zander Guy, who called the meeting to deal with “personnel issues.” Halstead attended the meeting but abruptly left it. According to published reports, Chief Halstead run Sun City’s police Department for 13 years and had been involved in law enforcement for 35 years.
Further reading into this article reveals that Sun City left themselves open to this, to some extent: While their personnel policy does govern how officers should present themselves on social media, it doesn’t have any specific social media policy. As incidents like this have proven time and time again, having specific policy is vitally important in order to prevent a lawsuit or confusion about expectations among public officials. In addition to the obvious (don’t be racist!), this is the lesson of this disaster: make sure that your organization has a social media policy, so it is able to prevent situations like this, or appropriately deal with the aftermath.
By the way, the website where I first read about this incident (STATter911) has a fantastic acronym for these type of fails: SMACSS (Social Media Assisted Career Suicide Syndrome). A sadly accurate acronym if I’ve ever heard one!