I’ve been a Los Angeles Police Officer for more than twenty years. I’d wanted to be, not just any cop, but an LAPD officer from the time I was twelve. Wearing the badge and uniform of the LAPD was a dream – and one, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d achieve. I’m not the biggest, strongest, or even a remotely athletic female. But what I do possess is a strong determination. A trait my husband likes to call my stubborn streak. That resilience served me well in my Academy training where my physical endurance was put to the test daily.
Another quality I’m blessed with, is a strong sense of opinion. I’ve got views on almost everything; and depending on how well I know you, you might hear some of them. But one thing I hadn’t considered in becoming an officer, nor was I prepared for in starting my career, was the way I’d have to censor my opinions.
Oh, I’d expected that, when I was in uniform, I’d have to put aside my personal beliefs when dealing with the public. But what about when I’m off-duty? It seems reasonable I should be able to talk to friends, neighbors and say whatever the heck I’d like, right? Hold that thought for a minute.
I bet many of you belong to social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook or some other place where people get online and ‘chat’. In addition to posting your progress in building farms, slaying other Mafias, or conquering new frontiers, many of you will post comments about causes you support or groups you belong to, or just an opinion about the state of the world. And most of you don’t give it another thought.
I think we’ve all seen unfortunate examples of someone posting a flaming comment via e-mail that was accidently sent to a whole bunch of people rather than the intended receiver. I think most writers are savvy enough not to trash talk agents, editors and other writers in a public forum. But if you DID choose to make an opinionated comment, what would be the worst that could happen? You’d never get published by that house, or sign a contract with your dream agent?
But as a police officer, let’s say that I made a strong statement on a social networking site about the Pittsburg Steelers – a recent hot topic around the country. Then, let’s say, in the scope of my duties as an LAPD officer, I go to work the next day and get involved in a situation where I wind up arresting a Pittsburg Steeler. Do you think my comments on the social networking site won’t be brought to the public for their scrutiny? Those comments will be made public, likely via the media who will put their own ‘spin’ on my post in order to garner viewers. Do you see how an ‘innocent’ comment online, for the world to see, could become a strong piece of evidence either for or against me? Do you think my online comments wouldn’t become part of any subsequent investigation? Think about those questions if the situation were more serious than a simple arrest.
For several years, experts have been warning ‘young people’ to be careful what they publish online because they never know when a future employer will be looking online for insight into a future employee – and it’s good advice.
Recently, police officers have been warned by their unions to be careful about their online postings because you never know how those comments, photos, or opinions may be perceived at a later date…and for a cop, the results of a careless word could be a career and financial disaster.
Right now, I have to think very carefully when I’m online about what I say and how I say it. When I retire, I’ll be able to be more free with my opinions. But until that time, when it comes to the Pittsburg Steelers, or any other political, social, or media-worthy issues, I’ve got one thing to say…No Comment!