The right to free speech, for instance, is being questioned by police departments across the country. If a police officer posts on his or her personal Facebook page an opinion that offends someone else, should the officer be fired or suspended?

Law enforcement departments are grappling with officers’ use of social media, and are attempting to put into place policies that restrict offensive speech. But is that removing the right to free speech for our police officers?

In the past year, a South Carolina police officer was fired for wearing Confederate underwear and posting it on his own personal Facebook page. The post appeared days after the church shootings in which nine black worshippers were killed. The officer has since settled a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The Plain View Project, launched by a Philadelphia attorney, examined the accounts of around 3-thousand officers from eight police department across the country. In addition, the group looked at social media accounts from 600 retired officers. 

In examining these accounts, Emily Baker-White compiled posts that represented what she believes to be troubling conduct by these officers. Conduct such as racist imagery, memes, and in some cases, long, vitriolic exchanges involving multiple officers.

As you might expect from such a project, information was gathered that could undermine the public trust in police officers and reinforce the views of critics. Many of these critics are in minority communities and maintain that the police are not there to protect them.

The latest victims come from the Philadelphia Police Department where 13 officers have been suspended for 30 days with “intent to dismiss” for social media posts that are considered racist and violent.

Police officers have hard and stressful jobs trying to protect the public. Do they not have the right to let off of some steam, and state opinions and feelings on their own personal Facebook pages without fear of retribution? Are these types of attacks on their livelihoods an attack on their rights to free speech?

If you have legal questions, please consult our Online Legal Directory to find an attorney in your area.

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