About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

July 31, 2009

Should a cop be fired for off-duty offensive speech?

More Gates fallout.

Police are and should be held to a higher standard. But I'm pretty much an absolutist when it comes to free speech. I don't think you should be fired for what you do and say at home.

(But on the other hand I wouldn't want a nazi or klan leader to be a police officer. Even if they argue that they can keep their private life and beliefs separate from their job performance.

We all say things in private that would be inappropriate, insensitive, and offensive if taken out of context or said in public. I know I have. But this guy was an idiot. I mean, first he writes an offensive comment to a columnist and then he forwards it to all his friends in the National Guard. So it wasn't exactly private anymore. But I still think it's free speech. But then what should the police department do? Doing nothing doesn't seem like the answer, either.

Here's the story by Maria Cramer in the Boston Globe.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

But I'm pretty much an absolutist when it comes to free speech.

Really. Close your eyes. Open them. Take our test:

http://iheartejade.blogspot.com/

should she be arrested for this blog?

PCM said...

No. Not for the blog.

But perhaps she is close to violating some stalker law.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that you feel that way.

http://www.wsls.com/sls/news/local/article/bedford_co._woman_blogs_about_police_then_gets_arrested/42423/

PCM said...

Unfortunate that I believe people shouldn't be locked up for what they say or write?

It's easy to arrest somebody. I'm curious what will happen in court.

Stalking may have been a better charge. She does seem a bit loopy.

Anonymous said...

This isn't just an typical arrest. She has been in jail for a couple of weeks now. Heaven knows what they are doing to her in there.

PCM said...

They're probably feeding her three crappy meals a day.

Anonymous said...

Among other things.

PCM said...

They're probably laughing about her behind her back, too.

Other than that, I doubt they're doing anything bad.

Usually the jail is under a different jurisdiction, anyway. Controlled by the sheriff's department, not the police.

Anonymous said...

Get real.

- policeman suspended for writing an exercising free speech rights in a way that I would be fired for (I am not in a labor union)

- woman in jail and criminally charged for exercising First Amendment rights

Regcit: so which one is the bigger injustice, officer?

Policeman: Obviously the policeman's situation is the bigger injustice. He plays for my team after all.

Regcit: What would you do if they put the police officer in jail for a couple weeks while the court sorts out a Hate Speech charge?

Policeman: To be honest, I would go nuts with outrage and grief. I can't even imagine it happening. He is a policeman after all. They couldn't even keep Johannes Mehserle in jail -- how could the policeman locked up with regcit d-bags? It is too nonsensical to even consider. You don't mess with cops!

Jaguar said...

Doing nothing doesn't seem like the answer, either.

He has to go because he's a huge liability. If he stays, his behavior will be brought up by every defense attorney in every one of his arrests that go to trial until the day he retires. He's another Mark Fuhrman. Further, he drags down the image of every police officer on both his force and other departments.

An employer can impose reasonable limits on employee behavior outside the sphere of employment, and that includes police officers. Otherwise, we'd have elementary school teachers who were part-time pornstars and police officers picking up some extra cash stripping at parties.

woman in jail and criminally charged for exercising First Amendment rights

The First Amendment safeguards protected speech, not all speech. It's the old "yelling fire in a crowded theater" situation. Stalking and endangering people is not protected behavior.

The blogger arrested in Virgina is Elisha Strom, a white supremacist and key figure in the neo-Nazi movement. She's married to Kevin Strom, a white separatist who served time for possession of child pornography.

It's a safe bet there's more involved in this case than a one-sided media report by a reporter too careless to do a little digging into a subject's past.

PCM said...

Jaguar,

It's a real pleasure having you comment on this blog (I didn't imagine myself saying that after your first comment).

You make excellent points here. Not being a lawyer (or a cop for long enough), the liability issue hadn't occurred to me. You are correct.

The whole taking pictures of cops issue, in general, I think is another issue. You got any opinion about Carlos Miller?
http://carlosmiller.com/

I understand as a cop I didn't want people constantly talking pictures of me. And I understand as an undercover that it's dangerous. But I also understand that this a free country and municipal police officers aren't secret police in masks. Police are citizens and civilians after all.

I honestly don't know where to draw the line.

Marc S. said...

The first amendment is to protect you from government oppression, not your employer, even if your employer is the government. If you become a liability, financial or otherwise, to your employer, you get fired.

He comprimised his ability to effectively do his job and embarassed his department. This is why no one i work with has my facebook account.

Anonymous said...

The blogger arrested in Virgina is Elisha Strom, a white supremacist and key figure in the neo-Nazi movement. She's married to Kevin Strom, a white separatist who served time for possession of child pornography.

Irrelevant for purposes of First Amendment rights, of course. I wish policemen knew the law better when it comes to the rights of the regcits.

And, no, the IHeArTEJADE blog is not like yelling fire in a crowded theatre because there is no imminent threat. Anyone convicted by these secret agents gets to know who they are. She is actually protecting them by showing how easy it is to figure out there identities. The next person who figures it out might not be as nice as the IHeArTEJADE blog is.

One may wonder how undercover officers in America can be protected. The answer is either that the police need to take exceptional measures, like Valerie Plame or Donnie Brasco, or else they need to understand that all the undercover entrapment stuff is just not worth it when it comes to drugs.

I wonder if Strom believes that the child porn evidence against her husband was planted in order to punish the white supremacists for being white supremacists. That would certainly explain her motivation for wanting (and getting) more police transparency.

The fact that they held her for two weeks without anybody finding out is another indication that there is a police transparency problem here.

Police should be about conspicuous and hard-to-fake uniforms (without military decorations) and marked cars with overhead lights that can be seen from all directions. It should not be about things like JADE.

pinhead said...

Were they plainclothes or undercover? If they were supposed to be undercover they're not doing a particularly good job at it.

Marc S. said...

Tell me about it pinhead...you gotta admire the undercovers with the high and tight haircuts. they probably walk around in 5.11 BDU's screaming "EXCUSE ME CITIZEN! I WOULD LIKE TO PURCHACE AN AMOUT OF MARIJUANA EXCEEDING 30 GRAMS OR AN EQUIVALENT FELONY AMOUNT OF COCAINE!"

10-8 said...

Speaking of 1st Amendment here's an interesting cops vs. rapper conviction from last week:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/n9qsp6

The 1st Amendment protects speech not threats. The blogger's behavior does not involve only speech but has progressed into threats, that's where courts typically draw the line.

Jag is right. There's probably a lot more to this story than what that incomplete news story tells us. She may face additional charges soon and the good officers have her tucked away for safekeeping until then. They may also be privy to threatening emails and other communications unknown to the reporter who wrote that story.

Anonymous said...

Jag is right. There's probably a lot more to this story than what that incomplete news story tells us. She may face additional charges soon and the good officers have her tucked away for safekeeping until then. They may also be privy to threatening emails and other communications unknown to the reporter who wrote that story.

Typical popo, just not getting the Bill of Rights.

*ay yi yi*

Jaguar said...

It's a real pleasure having you comment on this blog

Thanks, I'm glad I found your blog after reading about it on PoliceOne. I checked your book out of the library but haven't had a chance to read it yet.

The whole taking pictures of cops issue, in general, I think is another issue. You got any opinion about Carlos Miller?

I've looked at his blog on occasion. I think he needs to dial up the objectivity and dial down the narcissism.

I understand as a cop I didn't want people constantly talking pictures of me.

I could care less as long as the photographer stays out of the way or doesn't slow down traffic to get that perfect shot. Cellphone cameras are more and more common, so the citizen-photographer trend will only be increasing.

But I also understand that this a free country and municipal police officers aren't secret police in masks.

Photography in and of itself is not a problem. When it occurs concurrently with possible criminal activity, then the latter is something else entirely.

Anonymous said...

She is the one that turned her husband in for child porn. So, no it wasn't planted.
Also, freedom of speech and stalking are two diffrent things. Would you want someone following you home and taking pictures of your house and posting it on the internet with your address? There are alot of other innocent people being put in harms way but what she is doing!!!