Seattle police union: Officer’s angry online rhetoric doesn’t violate policy ‘per se’
While Seattle police are investigating an officer’s comments ripping President Barack Obama and defending the idea of “militarized” police, the head of the local union seemed reluctant to criticize them, The Stranger reported.
“I don’t think this violates any policy per se, Police Officers’ Guild president Ron Smith. “I just think everybody, including him, needs to be mindful of the perception created surrounding your comments in light of your profession.”
However, Smith’s remark represented an about-face. Earlier, he told the Stranger that he did not support the statement, “If you don’t like the ‘militarized’ police, then don’t commit crimes,” only to backpedal when told the remark was posted on Sgt. Christopher Hall’s personal Facebook page last month. Hall reportedly wrote the “officer of the month” feature for the union’s newsletter from 2006 to 2009.
The full statement read, “If you don’t like the ‘militarized’ police, then don’t commit crimes—the odds of you encountering an officer drops dramatically when that single factor changes… Regardless of how you feel about the police, the sheepdogs will continue to protect the resentful sheep from the wolves.”
Hall also supported fundraising efforts for Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, touching off a series of protests both in that city and around the country.
Hall wrote in one post, “In light of the Ferguson hashtag, DontShoot, I’m starting the hashtag #DontRobStores and #Dontpunchcops,” and blamed “media spin” for the attention garnered by the shooting and the demonstrations afterward. He also criticized Obama for expressing condolences toward Brown’s family.
“Your actions speak louder than words Mr. President,” Hall wrote. “Your intentional division of this country and overt racism is an embarrassment.”
A police department spokesperson, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, told the Stranger that the department was investigating Hall’s writing, noting that “politically-charged speech” was allowed as long as officers did not post that kind of material while they are working.
“It’s really gray as far as the directive goes,” Whitcomb was quoted as saying. “If you’re on duty and you’re making these remarks, that’s going to get a closer look.”
Department regulations (PDF) regarding social media state that officers may be liable for posts deemed “harmful to another person’s emotional state, defamatory, or an impermissible intrusion into another person’s privacy.”
The department’s Office of Professional Accountability has reportedly discussed Hall’s posts with Chief Kathleen O’Toole and is awaiting a decision on how to address the matter. Hall has made his Facebook page private and refused to discuss his posts with the Stranger.
“I’m not looking at what I wrote,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t know you, and I have no interest in discussing it with you.”
[Image: “Angry cop,” via Shutterstock]