The Vancouver Police Department’s information technology unit is using new software to monitor the force’s network traffic for any inappropriate use by its officers.
The addition of the “content security software” is revealed in a report going before the Vancouver Police Board Wednesday outlining the department’s email and Internet security regulations.
The software allows the VPD’s information technology unit to search, monitor and identify potential violations of the department’s network policy. The software also protects VPD servers and databases from security threats, the report said.
The use of the software and new guidelines for reporting inappropriate use of technology are directly related to incidents that occurred last year involving 14 officers and the VPD’s network.
The VPD announced in February that officers ranging in rank from constable to inspector and one male civilian employee used office computers to view and email “inappropriate” still photographs and video images.
Though Police Chief Jim Chu said an investigation into the incidents revealed nothing criminal or illegal about the material, he said the use of VPD equipment while on the job was inappropriate. Some of the discipline meted out included written reprimands, transfers and suspensions.
Police said the images ranged from the type seen in a newspaper and on the cover of Sports Illustrated to those that had to be searched for on the Internet.
The definition of “inappropriate material,” as outlined in the report, includes any material that is pornographic, sexual or erotic, obscene, lewd, offensive or harassing, threatening, defamatory, racially offensive, promotes violence, hatred, abuse or neglect.
The definition goes further to include any material that can be interpreted as offensive or contravenes the B.C. Human Rights Code, Criminal Code or any other provincial or federal laws.
Though the case involving the 14 officers violated the VPD’s email and Internet regulations, it wasn’t until April that the police board approved a social media policy for the department.
The policy is aimed at protecting the image of the police force, the reputation of its employees and “things you can consider to protect your career.”
It works as a guide for officers and employees on personal and investigative use of using such platforms as Twitter and Facebook.
The report on the social media policy noted cases in Canada and the United States where photographs or comments posted online have come into the possession of defence lawyers and the media and were used to impeach the credibility of police officers.
The VPD has its own website and is active on social media, using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. The department streams live press conferences on its website. In July 2010, another report that went before the police board said officers who patrol the city were not checking their email messages as often as they should.
A policy approved by the board recommended officers check their inboxes “at least once daily during their tour of duty and respond appropriately.”