A union leader Friday said the latest round of Dallas Police discipline is unfair, but a criminal justice expert said police policy is clear about offensive social media posts, even off duty.
That was some of the reaction Friday to news released late Thursday of 16 officers punished for social media infractions.
It comes after 23 former vice officers were disciplined earlier this week for record keeping and financial policy violations.
The social media investigation began in June with a post from the Plain View Project. The organization found hundreds of offensive posts it claimed were made by police officers with departments around the country.
Dallas Police investigators narrowed the list to 16 officers from their force accused of violating department policy with biased or offensive posts on gender, race, religion or unnecessary use of force.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said many of the posts were on private group sites, not available to the general public.
“When we have an IAD complaint, you have to have somebody who is actually offended, somebody who was actually harmed. Nobody was harmed in this. A lot of these statements happened 3, 5, 7, 8 years ago,” Mata said.
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University of Texas at Dallas Criminal Justice Expert Alex Piquero said a complaint should not be necessary for violations to come to light.
“If you do something wrong, I don’t really think it matters how it gets to the attention of people,” Piquero said. “Whether they think it’s private or not, we live in a world now where we are pretty sure anything you post online is out there somewhere in the sky, up there in the airwaves.”
Piquero reviewed the allegations against officers and the Dallas Police policy. The policy forbids demeaning expression, written or oral, on or off duty.
“If you go and sign on to a place of employment and this is the code you have and you sign on to it, then you’re agreeing to abide by the policy,” he said. “We should have a high standard for all public citizens, whether they’re professors, or they’re police department officials or city council people. These are people who are working on behalf and for the community.”
Mata agreed police must be accountable.
“We have a responsibility to maintain trust with the public, but we also have constitutional rights, constitutional rights to privacy, rights to free speech.” Mata said. “How do we define the line of what is offensive or not?”
It is an issue being debated by many organizations as social media use grows.
The officers involved in the social media issue may appeal their punishment that ranged from reprimands to five days of suspension without pay.