Social media experts weigh in on Buffalo cop's suspension

Feb 24, 2016

Social media experts are offering their thoughts on the case involving a Buffalo police officer who was suspended without pay for posting online videos that didn't sit well with police administrators.


Richard Hy, a three-year member of the Buffalo Police Department, was suspended without pay as the result of several videos posted on the social media site Vine under the account Angry Cops. Those video clips parody life on the police beat. But some raised the eyebrows of police officials, including one that portrayed the officer stealing cocaine from an evidence locker (several videos, including the cocaine skit, were no longer available as of late Tuesday).

Officer Richard Hy was suspended without pay by the Buffalo Police Department in response to numerous skits posted on social media in which he is in uniform.
Credit courtesy Vine

The Buffalo Police Department determined that Hy violated its posted policy on social media use (the full policy can be seen below). 

Social media experts WBFO interviewed agreed that the department was within its rights to suspend the officer.

"There's a line that has to be established and in this case, when you're representing the police department, it's tougher," said John Jiloty, Social Media Director for Martin Davison Public Relations in Buffalo. "There is some stuff in there. Some of that content was over that line and, from the police department's perspective, not what they would want to see from an employee representing the department."

Even when using social media outside of work hours and outside of one's role in his or her profession, what is posted can still come back to haunt the user. That's because even in one's off time, they're still potentially connected to their employer or another affiliation that may take exception to the posted content.

"We have different identities. (In) my role as a professor, I present myself one way and then outside of the university context I definitely present myself another way. But when you're posting content to social media, you have what I call a multiple audience problem," said Michael Stefanone, an associate professor in the Communication Department at the University at Buffalo. "That means your friends, your family and your employers have access to this content. Certainly, they have different expectations for your behavior."

Hy responded to his suspension on, of all places, social media. In an Instagram post, he suggests "Cops can't be funny or have a life outside being emotionless robots."

Officer Hy posted reaction to his suspension on his Instagram account.
Credit courtesy Instagram

Some are expressing their support for Hy, including one individual who established an online fundraising campaign in response to the officer's suspension.

The money raised by that campaign, it is explained on the site, will be donated to a charity, the Fallen Officer Foundation.

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(Courtesy Buffalo Police Department)

Social Media Policy for the Buffalo Police Department

Purpose

The Buffalo Police Department (“Department”) has established a social media policy that pertains to all members of the Department, both sworn and unsworn. This policy will pertain to all personal web pages or internet sites where there is any reference to the Buffalo Police Department, to ensure employees use appropriate discretion in the use of references to the Buffalo Police Department so as not to discredit the Department; to ensure that the release of information concerning crimes, accidents, or violations of ordinances or statues to persons outside the Department is not disseminated, either directly or indirectly; and that all employees treat as confidential the official business of the Department.

Policy

It shall be the policy of the Buffalo Police Department that employees of the department are prohibited from posting, transmitting and / or disseminating any photographs, video or audio recordings, likeness or images of departmental logos, emblems, uniforms, badges, patches, marked or unmarked vehicles, equipment, or other material that specifically identifies the Buffalo Police Department and tends to discredit the department, on any personal or social networking website or web page. No employee shall represent themselves, directly or indirectly, in any public forum, as a member of the Buffalo Police Department, either by text, photograph, or image depicting the uniform, badge or patch in any manner that reflects a lack of good moral character. No employee will represent themselves in any public social media forum as an employee of the Buffalo Police Department with information, opinion or posture that would bring unfavorable criticism or embarrassment upon the department.

Procedures

A. Employees having personal web pages or other types of internet postings which can be accessed by the public, shall not place or allow photographs or depictions of themselves dressed in uniform and / or displaying official identification, patches or badges, or in any other way, either directly or indirectly, identifying themselves as an employee of the Buffalo Police Department in any manner which tends to discredit the Department.

B. Photographs or other depictions of department marked or unmarked vehicles, shall not be posted on internet sites without approval of the Commissioner of Police.

C. Photographs of police buildings, other than public areas inside or outside of the buildings as well as any crime or accident scene shall not be posted.

D. Employees are prohibited from posting, transmitting and or disseminating any pictures or videos of official Department training, activities or work related assignments without approval of the Commissioner of Police.

E. Employees wishing to use photographs, depictions or references to the Buffalo Police Department, must receive approval from the Commissioner of Police.

F. Employees who post photos, comments, etc. of other department employees acting in the course of, or related to; their employment with the Department must inform and seek approval from the employee(s) before posting same.

H. All employees shall treat as confidential the official business of the Department.

I. No employee shall release, either directly or indirectly, information concerning crimes, accidents or violations of ordinances or statutes to persons outside the Department except in the course of their official duties.

Approval Process

A. An employee seeking approval to use references to the Buffalo Police Department on a personal website, webpage or other public forum, shall submit a request for approval to the Commissioner of Police via the chain of command.

B. The request shall describe the proposed reference or material and purpose.

C. The request shall also include a written description of the webpage, website or other electronic medium where the post will be seen, as well as the address of the webpage, website or other electronic medium.

D. The approval process is subject to the following limitations:

1. No sexual, violent, racial, ethnically derogatory material, comments, pictures, artwork, video or other reference may be posted along with any Department approved reference.

2. Employees shall not post any material on the internet that brings discredit to or may adversely affect the efficiency or integrity of the Department.

3. Employees are reminded to exercise good judgement and demonstrate personal accountability when choosing to participate on social networking sites. They should also consider the possible adverse consequences of internet postings, such as cross-examination in criminal cases, in addition to public and private embarrassment, etc.