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Law Enforcement Agencies' Social Media Policies Designed To Prevent Controversy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Law enforcement agencies are under constant scrutiny, and it's no different on social media. In the past month, a St. Paul police officer resigned after admitting to a controversial Facebook post. Another officer in Rochester was placed on leave after his controversial posts were made public.

So what is appropriate and allowed for police? WCCO found each Twin Cities police department's policy is different, and in some cases, non-existent.

It's hard to miss the attention a questionable post by a member of law enforcement gets. Often harsh criticism or discipline follows.

"Most organizations these days have written policies for social media use," social media expert David Erickson said.

Hennepin, Ramsey and Chisago County Sheriff's Offices share similar social media policies. Erickson calls the policies an insurance policy for departments.

"They basically give you an outline of the things you should be doing and shouldn't be doing and consequences for doing things that violate the policy," Erickson said.

The sheriff's offices' policies strive to avoid anything that would compromise the safety of officers, and prohibits language or conduct that could damage the department. And while acting as an office representative, they can't endorse, support or oppose political or religious causes.

"Mostly, it's don't be stupid," Erickson said. "Don't do stupid things online because people will find out."

Employment attorney Larry Schaefer calls having a social media policy a balancing act.

"It should be very narrowly tailored," he said. "It should only restrict communication that would otherwise reflect poorly on department or involve specifics of the job duties or the way they do their job."

The Minneapolis Police department teaches a social media class. Its policy focuses on protecting the reputation of the organization and guarding against liability and legal risk. The policy suggests exercising good judgment, and that employees on social media who can be identified as MPD have no expectation of privacy. And it spells out potential discipline.

Still, Schaefer advises there are risks.

"The risk is you get sued by people who aren't happy with having their free speech rights restricted," Schaefer said.

Rochester Police policy covers all forms of communication but is not specific to social media: Don't discriminate, be faithful to the office, use proper in language and conduct. St. Paul Police does not have a policy.

Many of the departments also have an on-the-job social media policy, including how it can be used for investigative purposes and what is posted to social sites.

Read each department's full policy:

Chisago County Sheriff | Hennepin County Sheriff | Ramsey County Sheriff | Minneapolis Police | Rochester Police

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