Vancouver cops craft social media strategy

VPD officers used office computers to view 'inappropriate' images

The Vancouver Police Department now has a social media policy aimed at protecting the image of the police force and the reputation of its employees.

The Vancouver Police Board approved the policy last month. It includes a guide for VPD employees personal use of social media and things you can consider to protect your career.

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The policy comes after the department announced in February that 14 male 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 revealed nothing criminal or illegal about the material, he said the use of VPD equipment while on the job was inappropriate. 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. Police wouldnt expand on the content of the images.

The investigation was launched because the employees, some of whom received written reprimands, transfers and suspensions, violated an existing email and Internet security policy. That policy prohibits officers from transmitting material that is pornographic, sexual, erotic, obscene, lewd, offensive or promotes violence or hatred.

But the policy does not guide employees on personal use of social media, or provide clear rules governing the use of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for investigative and operational uses.

Given recent civil and criminal decisions, the VPD cannot assume employees are aware of the hazards associated with their professional and personal use of social media networks, said a VPD staff report that went before the police board. Although there have been several bulletins circulated offering guidance to employees, clear policy combined with guidelines for personal use by employees will reduce the risk to both the VPD and its employees.

The report noted numerous cases have arisen in Canada and the Unites 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 VPDs social media policy outlines several measures, including:

- All VPD use of social sites or pages for non-investigative purposes must be approved in advance by the senior director of community and public affairs.

- Employees must get authorization of a supervisor before creating profiles or accounts on any social media sites for investigative purposes.

- When using social media for personal reasons, employees shall not post any photographs, video, audio or other media that was captured or related to on-duty activities.

- The use of covert accounts must be conducted from a covert computer to prevent the discovery of the police investigation by tracking the account to a VPD computer.

- Any intelligence received through the use of social media shall be forwarded to the appropriate investigative section for follow up as soon as possible.

The policy also warns VPD employees to be mindful their posted words and images become a permanent part of the worldwide electronic domain and commentary offered off-duty may be mistakenly associated to them professionally.

The VPD is active on social media, using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. The department also streams live press conferences on its website and investigators use the Internet to catch child predators and suspects in the Stanley Cup riot.

mhowell@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Howellings

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