Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Court case spotlights law enforcement and social media

Social media can be a blessing or a curse for law enforcement. A recent case in the U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit ruled one police department’s social media policy infringed on an officer’s First Amendment right to speak.

In the case of Liverman v. City of Petersburg, the United States Court of Appeals 4thCircuit reviewed the discipline of two city police officers that was based on posts they made on Facebook.

In its review, the court overturned the discipline and concluded that the police department’s policy was “overbroad,” because it prohibited too much, and therefore infringed on the officers’ First Amendment rights to speak on a matter of public concern. The court further concluded the police chief failed to establish the officers’ social media comments meaningfully impaired the efficiency of the workplace.

This Washington Post article does a good job of laying out the issues in the case. Also get more detail from this post by Jack Ryan with the Legal and Liability Risk Institute. Ryan is a frequent presenter for law enforcement training sponsored by the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund. He recently worked with SCMIRF to review and update its law enforcement model policy on social networking.

All South Carolina public agencies should review their policies and training related to social networking in addition to any policies that limit employee speech/expression or policies that prohibit protected speech that would not impact agency operations.

March 12 - 19 is Sunshine Week, and the Association will feature more articles that week focusing on best practices for transparency and the public's right to know.

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