Should police officers, especially at a leadership rank, express political opinions on social media?

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“Dear PoPville,

I typically don’t send emails like this, but what I saw on LinkedIn this morning concerns me. I was scrolling through and came across a post from a DC Lieutenant connected to one of my LinkedIn connections. The screenshot I took is above (since removed and sorry for the ringer icon!).

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I then decided to look at this person’s LinkedIn page and found that the majority of what he is posting has to do with being anti-protester and/or anti Hillary supporter. In any other space I would not care

, but this person is a civil servant in DC and we pay him to protect us. Given how overwhelmingly liberal and anti-Trump DC is, I find it alarming that someone in his position is publicly posting in this manner. It makes me think that he would not protect DC protesters.

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As DC residents, how are we supposed to address something like this? I find it so inappropriate for a civil servant to post on social media like this, especially publicly. Should I contact the police department directly?”

92 Comment

  • No. Police officers and other public servants should not express political opinions on social media.

    • I agree, with the caveat of “publicly.” They should not publicly express political opinions on social media (as a civil servant, this is the rule I operate by).

      • In high school, we were told that we were representatives of the uniform. Anything we did while wearing that uniform could be held accountable by the school. We see the same thing in modern sports. As an officer and actually posting that in his uniform with his lieutenant designation, he places himself as a representative of the department which is sworn to serve without bias. Not saying that he will not do so but leaning one way publicly brings in some doubt.

  • While I don’t think that expressing political opinions on social media is a good idea or in good taste, let’s be honest: if this man had expressed the opposite opinion, you would have no issue with the content of his posts. I haven’t seen anyone criticize the preponderance of anti-Trump messages flooding the Internet over the past week.

    • That would probably be because the “opposite opinion” doesn’t imply dereliction of his duty as a civil servant. A police officer posting “Protests are a healthy and important part of America’s democracy and we at MPD dedicate ourselves to protecting all voices in our city” would be, y’know, constitutionally sound and in line with what cops are supposed to do.

      • Psst…his voice counts as one of “all voices in our city”. As long as he’s not infringing on anyone’s rights (he’s not) or promoting hatred/bias (he’s not), he can say what he wants. Sorry!

    • The problem is he is posting under his professional employment profile. If he was posting on Facebook as private citizen James Boteler Jr., whatever, to each their own. This is so unprofessional. It’s common knowledge you should not be posting your controversial, political, and other opinions when it can be tied back to your employer.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I agree with this. I would be surprised if this was not a violation of existing department policy.

      • This is the issue. As a citizen, he has the complete right to this opinions. As a civil servant, his opinions have no place in exercising his duties as an MPD officer.

  • Freedom of speech isn’t limited to privately employed citizens.. Ask yourself honestly, would you care if he was supporting Hillary?

    • But he’s not a privately employed citizen. He’s employed by us actually. Appointed officials and civil servants in the federal government are strictly limited for posting ANYTHING that could be considered political.

    • gotryit

      Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you get to stay employed. If I posted something as a federal employee using my title, I’d be in trouble. Same probably goes for an MPD employee.

    • Not true- as a public servant I cannot post onions under social media accounts that are tied to my position.

      If i use my own name that’s find but as soon as I attach my title and position to those accounts there are certain rules that have to be followed.

      Finally, as a public servant you are suppose to serve in the interest of the public regardless of your political views.

  • As long as he’s not circulating anything racist or sexist (e.g., the Michigan officer) I wouldn’t get too worked up over it.

  • I struggle with this and am a huge advocate of free speech. I guess there is an issue if he said that HE (as MPD) would lock up the protesters/liberals or wouldn’t protect them. I think HE (as a human) has the right to think/say whatever he wants.

  • HaileUnlikely

    My personal opinion is that they police officers and other public servants should be allowed to express their opinions privately but not in ways that are explicitly linked to their employer/position. Obviously there is gray area in the case of higher profile public servants whose names are household names, but in this case, I don’t have a problem with the fact that this guy *is* a police officer and that he expresses this or any opinion, but I find his publishing the specific details that he is a Lieutenant with the DC MPD in conjunction with his opinions unprofessional and I’d honestly be surprised if it was not a violation of department policy.

    • I generally agree with this – it was not a great decision, and probably in violation of MPD policy. That said, I find two consecutive sentences in the email to Popville utterly ridiculous:
      .
      “Given how overwhelmingly liberal and anti-Trump DC is, I find it alarming that someone in his position is publicly posting in this manner. It makes me think that he would not protect DC protesters.”
      .
      Come on. There is nothing in the posts that the OP referenced to suggest that he wouldn’t do his duty. (And protect DC protesters from whom? The 4% of Trump voters?) Also, the fact that OP is “alarmed” that this cop is a public Trump supporter is, as I said, ridiculous. This kind of faux hysteria (at least I hope it’s faux) isn’t helpful at all.
      .
      My family is going to be spending the holidays in close quarters with a large number of people who likely did vote for Trump, including a couple of family members. We have been having numerous conversations with our daughter about respectful ways to discuss politics. During these conversations, we have realized that she is not close to one single person who voted for Trump – between the echo chamber of her school, parents, grandparents, and friends, there’s no one – and she’s genuinely distraught about the election. We are having a hard time making her understand that just as many people voted for Trump, and she can’t go around singing “Trump is a Dump” in public places. Point is, not everyone agrees with you, and that’s OK. Perhaps OP’s parents need to have a similar conversation with him or her. (Of course, my daughter is not yet 10, so I’m willing to cut her a little slack.”
      .
      On a related note, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing entirely with Petula Dvorak’s column in today’s post. It made me question my beliefs a bit, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that I hadn’t lost my marbles, but that Petula is the proverbial broken clock – she’s right twice a day.

    • Concur mostly. This is why I take serious issue with at least one of his posted comments. He writes about wanting to send someone to jail for his or her beliefs. That DOES directly relate to powers afforded to him due to his position, and MPD should be concerned about his ability to police a diverse community without bias.

      • Go back and look again at the context of his post. He’s talking about putting Hillary in jail.

        • Yeah, I don’t see how one can reasonably convert, “Hillary Clinton committed criminal acts and deserves to be in prison” into concerns “about his ability to police a diverse community without bias.” And this is coming form someone who vehemently disagrees with the notion that she committed a crime, or should be in jail.

        • You’re right. It’s in response to the original post from Hillary, and not to someone supporting her. I misunderstood the image and apologize.
          .
          That said, I still find issue with an officer stating he’d like to “lock up” someone who he politically disagrees with. If he has subscribed to the mantra without understanding the legal facts and conclusion, well, it’s also problematic. Jailing individuals is not something I’m comfortable with our police force taking lightly, and I’d think that no matter who the comment was directed towards.

  • The context of the comment is the problem imo. It’s anti liberal, if he just said “yay trumpy, I love red hats Big league” it would be fine.

    • Why does it matter that it is anti-liberal?

      • Point taken. What I was trying to articulate, was the negative tone of the political comment from the a police officer. It would be just as problematic if it were anti trump.
        I don’t think it’s appropriate for a police officer to come out against a political group, but I don’t see any issue with a police officer be for a group.
        Does that make sense?

  • skj84

    On Linkedin that is completely inappropriate. He’s representing his employer. I don’t post anything political or personal on my Linkedin or work social media accounts. However if it was his personal Facebook I wouldn’t really have a an issue. Do I agree with what he said? No. But I do think he has the right to voice his opinion on his personal page.

    • I agree with skj84 completely. He can post what he wants on his personal FB account, but it is completely inappropriate on his professional LinkedIn account.

  • Curious – Is there an official MPD policy on this type of posting while acting as an employee of MPD? If so, what is it?

    • Policy aside, its inappropriate. No policy needed to determine that.

    • I didn’t immediately see anything, but it could run him (and MPD) into some problems if he were involved in arresting protesters. Attorneys would probably claim he was in violation of the General Order on Unbiased Policing. Even if not strictly against MPD policy, it is poor judgment.

  • I’m siding with freedom of speech on this one. While I certainly disagree with his position, what made America great to begin with was that all of us have the right to say whatever we like about our political system and positions. My freedom to criticize the new administration for the next four years is the exact same one that he has to criticize the last one. I trust all of our public servants to understand that they must separate their political beliefs (on either side) from the execution of their official duties, but that they are free in their own time to say and do what they feel they need to do.

  • Just look at his profile photo. It’s pretty obvious he likes being a cop for the power it gives him over other people and not for the public service aspect of the job.

    • +1
      This guy looks like he’s auditioning for a reality show or Law & Order. He’s all about the image of being a cop and zero regard for the service aspect. Pathetic.

  • Would you be ok with federal government employees posting anti-Trump messages? For example a fed employee lists their job title on FB and posts anti-Trump messages. This ok or no? Restricting free speech is a slippery slope…

    • There already are lots of restrictions on free speech and a sizeable body of jurisprudence defining the contours of those restrictions. Executive branch employees just came out from under frequent reminders about the Hatch Act.

      And plenty of times exercise of freedom of speech has real and allowable consequences. There are restrictions on my commentary related to activity in my private sector industry. I can say whatever I want, but I will lose my job if I ignore the limitations that my employer has set out to protect their own regulatory compliance.

    • I guess it depends where you work, but this was easily avoided when I was a fed because I was told to never list my employer or job title anywhere on social media. As someone else pointed out he could run into some issues in his job duties re: arresting protesters and attorneys finding this stuff. Severe lack of judgment.

    • But also posting on Facebook and posting on LinkedIn are usually viewed as two entirely separate platforms, the latter which is linked directly to an individual’s job title/employment, which appears to be where the officer in question was posting. It may not be illegal or wrong but I doubt anyone wouldn’t agree that it is very unprofessional….

      • Clearly if this was done on goverment time or with government resources this would be wrong. But if not, im torn on whether this is merely unprofessional or should it be prohibited by your employer.

        Public servants should give the apparence of neutrality/fair dealing. But how much of their private free speech should they have to give up in exchange for employment?

    • It’s called the Hatch Act. So what you described already exists. It’s not restricting free speech, you can say it- you just can’t count on having a job.

    • Yes, federal employees are required to comply with the Hatch Act, and at a recent (required for all of my Department’s employees) training we were told that it is a violation of the Hatch Act to post political messages on our personal Facebook account, IF our FB profile lists that we are an employee of a federal agency. An easy solution for a fed is to remove your workplace information from your profile. Doing this is also a good idea because I have heard of some government offices retaliating against employees who held political views contrary to the party in power (it shouldn’t happen, but it does.)

  • Police officers are supposed to protect ALL citizens as an explicit part of their job. Posting comments like this gives the impression that he won’t.

  • Yeah it’s a Violation of the Hatch Act

    • I don’t think this falls under the Hatch Act./ I could be wrong but the hatch act only deals with federal employees and I don’t think DC police offers fall under that umbrella

    • Wait, does the hatch act cover police though? I’m googling it but not getting a clear answer about exactly who is covered law enforcement-wise.

      • DC employees are covered by Hatch.

        He is identifying himself as an MPD officer, in uniform in his picture, talking about an issue in front of his agency, and threatening to use his official power in a political manner.

        Other than all that, he’s square.

  • gotryit

    Would this police officer provide “equal protection under the law” to me as a “liberal elite”? To minorities? Foreigners?
    On one hand, it’s great that we can very clearly see his biases rather than hiding them, but it’d be better if our police weren’t biased.

    • “It would be better if our police weren’t biased”. So…you want police with no human emotions? Did you think Robocop was a documentary? Every single person is biased in one way or another. You just wish that all cops were anti-Trump.

      • Every person is going to have some amount of bias. However, if you are unable to refrain from expressing that bias in your capacity as a public servant, then you are in the wrong job.

  • No one should flaunt their political views on social media in my opinion. It’s literally the worst and the bottom line is most don’t care what you think. Anyone with a facebook account or twitter these days thinks that their posts actually matter or make a difference but guess what? They don’t. Instead of shoving your views in people faces on social media why not join a group or become active in a community to make a difference? I don’t mind promoting things on social media in that regard but when someone takes the time to write a 3 paragraph “status” about how they feel I legitimately cringe. It’s the main reason I got rid of facebook 4 years ago and haven’t gotten back on.

  • “Free speech” is a constitutional right, yes, but it does not mean you cannot be fired for speech. Period. Social media policies exist for this reason. As his employer, the police department fully has the right to evaluate his speech on public platforms such as LinkedIn and determine if it is an appropriate representation of the agency.

    In my opinion, no it isn’t. But it isn’t up to me; it’s up to his employer, and the assertion that freedom of speech protects him is inaccurate in this instance.

  • has anyone sent the link tp DC police? Might be interesting to see if they respond

    • Don’t stop until he’s jobless, homeless and penniless, Carol! That’ll show him!

      • that is not what i was saying but we are all guessing at weather or not this violates policy, it would be interesting to actually know if there is a policy…

      • Jeez, I think that might be a little over the top for a few things posted by someone on a website.

        • what, reporting him to his employer? i agree.

          • The person posting under the moniker, “Just a Guy,” wrote: “Don’t stop until he’s jobless, homeless and penniless, Carol! That’ll show him!” I just think that’s a bit much. I know it’s a free country and everything, but if it were me, I’d certainly not encourage Carol to take things that far.

          • I’m pretty sure your sarcasm meter is broken. Although some so-called progressives are acting so foolishly, I suppose it’s possible that just a Guy was serious.

      • I doubt he would lose his job over this complaint. It might be good be reminded that MPD policy has prohibitions against discussing political issues while in uniform, especially given that he is a lieutenant. MPD General Order 201.26 covers officer behaviors, and MPD General Order 302.08 extends that prohibition to an officer’s personal social media. Given that a couple of the posts have come down, I think the message is at least partially delivered.

        There are good reasons for this rule. To be effective as a law enforcement agency, the department and its officers need to appear impartial. We’re very fortunate in this country that our law enforcement agencies are not extensions of one political party or another. These rules are part of how we maintain that balance.

    • This post may do that even if no one does it separately. Cops have commented here and I suspect that DC council members and/or their staff have their eye on this site so it likely has made it back to MPD some way.

      This may be the single biggest reason to shut your yap on social media if you work for some government agency of some sort. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Free speech is free speech regardless of who you are HOWEVER, it seems that most governments (state, local, federal) have policies in place insure that what an individual says as in individual cannot be construed for what the agency they represent says and how they govern and enforce rules. In this case MPD absolutely doesn’t want people to think that this officer speaks for them and why he gets called on this, if in fact he does get called on it. Keep in mind this guy is also and LT and not just some rookie patrol officer and that may change things as well.

  • Police officers should be held to the same standard as military members (DOD policy) and other federal employees (Hatch Act). They can certainly have their own opinions and express them privately, but any partisan political activity is forbidden, which includes fundraising (publicly or privately) or political endorsements. DOD policy does not allow sharing an official candidate’s or political party’s post. (I can’t find anything on “liking”). After all, the taxpayers write their paychecks.

    When your employer is the taxpayer, your should strive to represent ALL of them. Divisive posts like this one are just that–divisive.

    But of course it will never happen for cops, because the police unions will still exist and still play politics. The military is the model for non-partisanship, as it should be.

    • Actually, I was pretty sure that you can (at least under the Hatch Act, perhaps not DOD policy) make donations to candidate and express opinions about political candidates — just not in your official capacity. For example, you could wear a Hillary shirt to the grocery store but you can’t put a Hillary bumper sticker on your car that you park in the garage of a federal government building.

      • Note – I looked a little more and it looks like you’re talking about the “further restricted” folks under the Hatch Act, usually law enforcement and intelligence agency employees.

      • Per U.S. Office of Special Counsel:

        “While section 7324 of the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in
        political activity in a federal workplace, the Hatch Act regulations specifically state that an
        employee may place a partisan political bumper sticker on his personal vehicle and park that
        vehicle in a federal parking lot or garage. 5 C.F.R. § 734.306, Example 7. Thus, OSC generally
        advises that an employee may place a partisan bumper sticker on his car and park it in a federal
        parking lot.”

        • Ok, fine, bad example. Thanks for completely ignoring the overarching point I was trying to make….. Geez…. but to get you back, you may not wear partisan political buttons on duty!

          • I’m simply trying to limit the misinformation that floats around on the Hatch Act.

            Concerning political buttons, there is some complexity to that issue as well. See the most recent guidance from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel:

            November 9, 2016
            Wearing or Displaying Partisan Items
            in the Federal Workplace after Election Day

            Now that Election Day is over, many federal employees want to know whether they can wear or display partisan items in the workplace. At issue is the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty, in a federal room or building, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle. See 5 U.S.C. § 7324. Political activity is defined as activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. See 5 C.F.R. § 734.101.

            Candidates in the Presidential Election

            Because of the Electoral College system, candidates for President of the United States retain their status as candidates until January 6, 2017. However, after Election Day, with rare exception, activities supporting or opposing a Presidential candidate will not affect the result of the election, as only members of the Electoral College are left to cast their votes. Accordingly, after Election Day, activities such as wearing campaign t-shirts or displaying candidate pictures do not constitute political activity, and the Hatch Act does not prohibit a federal employee from engaging in those activities, even while on duty or in the federal workplace.

            Political Parties and Partisan Political Groups

            Even after Election Day, the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees, while on duty or in the federal workplace, from wearing or displaying items that show support for or opposition to a political party or partisan political group. For example, an employee may not wear or display a political party t-shirt, poster, or similar item in the workplace.

          • Then correct other people on this post while you’re at it, not little things! How about answering all the questions about whether the hatch act even APPLIES to police officers, huh anonymous?

          • Concerning the application of the Hatch Act to police officers, it’s a bit complicated.

            As a general rule, Hatch Act only applies to Federal employees. Most police aren’t federal employees. However, the Hatch Act also applies to those employed by agencies in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency. This likely includes a substantial number of law enforcement agencies.

            Additionally, DC is a federal enclave, and in the past, DC employees were explicitly covered by the Hatch Act. This changed when President Obama signed the Hatch Act Modernization Act in 2012, which exempted DC employees from the Hatch Act. That all said, there is a 2010 and 2013 DC law that includes similar political activity provisions (a Local Hatch Act so to speak).

            Bottom line is that it depends on the facts of the situation. Some law enforcement officers (perhaps most) will certainly be covered by the Hatch Act or similar provisions. Other might not be.

      • Friday girl, you’re right, you can as a military/fed wear your Hillary/Trump t-shirt to the grocery store and donate to a campaign, or have a bumper sticker on your car; but you can’t hold a fundraiser at your house (what I meant for private fundraising, sorry for any confusion), nor can you have campaign/partisan things on display in the workplace.

  • I feel like there are bigger issues to fry, rather than going after a police officer working to protect our city because he has a different viewpoint than you.

  • Seriously? He should absolutely be allowed to express whatever he wants. And I’m someone who’s sickened by Trump’s victory. Everyone needs to get off their high horse. I adamantly support this man’s right to express whatever he wants. He’s politically tuned in. Good for him. Even if I disagree I don’t judge him personally and I don’t want to deny his opinion.

    After this election I changed my affiliation from Democrat to Independent. We (us liberals) really need to take a look in the mirror – we seem to be inching towards caddy, passive aggressive fascists. It’s almost as disheartening as losing the election.

  • What makes this even more alarming is the fact that he provides “training” to police officers

    http://www.slideshare.net/JamesBoteler/leo-surviving-armed-encounters-training-flyer

  • I agree with all of the commentators who find this inappropriate. If this person wants to express his private political opinions dressed in civilian clothes, that’s his right. He can even generically say he’s a police officer. But he should not be posting political opinions of any stripe with a picture in uniform and identifying himself as a DC police officer. As a DC taxpayer, I am not helping to to fund his salary so that I can hear his political views in a professional capacity. Again, he’s free to say and do as he wants as a private citizen, but leave the police uniform and the job information out of it.

  • He has a right to do this, but he’ll have no right to wonder why the people he polices no longer trust him. he should know better.

  • Ha, and this gem was voted MPD “seargent of the year ” in 2013.

    Still doesn’t change the fact that he is yet another non District resident pulling a significant income from DC taxpayers, then acting like a petulant racist man-child online.

    • First, it’s “sergeant.”

      Second, where was he ever racist? How fair of you to criticize him for having an opinion different than yours.

      Third, way to be appreciative of his service protecting you and the community.

      It infuriates me to see people attack this officer who is putting his life on the line daily for our community solely because he has a different opinion on our Presidential candidate than many of you. Grow up. Get a life. Find a hobby. Stop chastising someone because they voiced their opinion, although it may not be a popular one.

  • Am I missing something? Are there additional behaviors other than him “liking” the picture, making an HRC jail comment, and hoping that liberal elites move away? This is frankly no more political than 99% of what I’ve been seeing on social media in recent weeks and I don’t see this as any sort of evidence that the man has been derelict in his job.

  • I’m sure someone already said something about it but nothing will happen. This dude is union.

  • If all the liberals left town – who would be here to pay the taxes that pay his salary.

  • I don’t have a problem with it. An easy way to avoid hyperventilating over it is to not read his social media pages.

    Unless there is evidence that his political views are clouding his judgement on the job, I say have at it big boy.

  • I can’t believe there’s even a discussion about this. While wearing his uniform, and self-identifying as a public servant, this guy repeatedly expresses hostility to people he is paid to serve. How can this possibly be permitted or defended or justified? He should be disciplined at least, or preferably demoted, or preferably fired.