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    New York Times: Police Lesson: Social Network Tools Have Two Edges

    Information from social-networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have been used to gather evidence in trials against jurors and defendants, against employees (which can lead to lawsuits) and applicants to jobs in the US and abroad, applicants to colleges and graduate schools, politicians and high school students. Now, the New York Times reports that police officers are seeing problems can arise from their own social-network postings:

    Social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can be valuable assets for law enforcement agencies, helping them alert the public, seek information about crimes and gather evidence about the backgrounds of criminal suspects. But the Internet can also get police departments into trouble.

    Public gaffes like Officer Economidy’s — his cynical job description [“human waste disposal”] on Facebook was “extremely inappropriate and a lapse in judgment on my part,” he said last week in an e-mail — are only one of the risks. A careless posting on a networking site, law enforcement experts say, can endanger an officer’s safety, as it did in Santa Monica, Calif., last year when the Police Department went to great lengths to conceal a wounded officer’s identity and location, only to have a retired officer inadvertently reveal them on Facebook.

    And defense lawyers increasingly scour social networking sites for evidence that could impeach a police officer’s testimony. In one case in New York, a jury dismissed a weapons charge against a defendant after learning that the arresting officer had listed his mood on MySpace as “devious” and wrote on Facebook that he was watching the film “Training Day” to “brush up on proper police procedure.” […]

    The problem is serious enough that departments across the country are scrambling to develop rules to govern what officers can and cannot do online. […]

    Most social media policies try to balance a police department’s interests against First Amendment protections for the officers. Many include prohibitions against posting any statements that could discredit or reflect badly on a department, that illustrate reckless behavior or that disparage people based on race, religion or sexual orientation. Posting crime scene photos or other evidence from criminal cases online is also prohibited by most policies.

    Others go further. Albuquerque’s policy, for example, prohibits officers from identifying themselves as employees of the Police Department or posting photos of departmental insignia — badges, uniforms, cruisers — without permission. And a recent policy by the Police Department in Pueblo, Colo., bans gossiping online with outsiders about department affairs.

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