‘Tis the season … for politics!!
As this political season heats up, I continually receive questions about whether or not LEOs can participate in the political process. The short answer is, “Yes!” You can have yard signs and bumper stickers on your cars. The issues with LEOs usually arise concerning statements to the media and requests for public comments. So, here are some guidelines:
TEN BASIC RULES FOR PUBLIC STATEMENTS AND COMMENTS BY LEOs
Rule #1: Avoid personal attacks, inappropriate language and off-handed comments.
Rule #2: Assume at all times that your comments are public. There is no such thing as comment that is made or kept “off the record.”
Rule #3: Frame your comments and concerns in terms of how issues affect the public NOT how they affect you.
For example, “Our police cars are in a state of disrepair. They break down and they are unreliable. Because of this, the public is placed at risk if we are unable to respond to calls for help in a timely manner.”
Do NOT say, “My patrol car keeps breaking down and needs to be replaced.”
Rule #4: Avoid comments and statements that will disrupt the operations of the department whenever possible. This is particularly important in smaller departments. Consult an attorney FIRST if you believe such comments are unavoidable.
Rule #5: Ensure that you are off the clock when you speak.
Rule #6: Do not discuss your individual grievances, discipline or ongoing personnel disputes.
Rule #7: Know the facts, stick to the facts and speak ONLY the truth.
Rule #8: Find out if a record will be kept of your statements and determine how you can get a copy. Always get a copy.
Example: Buy and keep the newspaper that contains your comments, tape the news broadcast that contains your interview or find out if the commission meeting will be taped or transcribed and get a copy.
Rule # 9: Avoid emotion and show your professionalism at all times.
Rule #10: Consult an attorney if you believe that you will be asked about or you believe that you must disclose information about criminal activity, wrongdoing or corruption. Although you will likely be protected as a whistleblower, these are serious matters and you must have proper legal counsel.
In the event that you believe you are the subject of retaliation for public comments, contact your attorney as soon as possible. If you are questioned about your statements, affirmatively state that you were not on duty, your statements were made as an exercise of your right to free speech and your statements addressed matters of public concern.
Document all statements you make and plan all statements. It is a good idea to practice statements, questions you will ask and answers you may provide. Finally, bring a witness with you.
Do NOT store your statements, transcripts of hearings or media articles in your department office, car or on your department owned computer. I recommend that you do not use your personal computer to store department information under any circumstances. If you must do so, keep ALL department information on a separate and detachable drive. Do NOT use your departmental email address for any communications that are not 100% related to your job.
Be proud of your efforts to stand up for others. Stay on track, follow these rules and take a class that will go into more details on these issues and others.