“I’m Firing You! And Telling the World Your Sins—on Twitter!”
Talk about public shaming, Internet-style…
Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown has fired or disciplined 27 officers and employees in the last year. And every time he brings down the hammer, he announces it on Facebook and Twitter, specifying exactly who the men and women are and what they did. On Dec. 30, it was five officers and a 911 call operator.
Here’s Chief Brown, naming names:
Chief Brown is, as far as we know, unique among police chiefs in his use of social media. “I’m unaware of anyone else doing this,” says Lt. Max Geron, who handles media relations at the Dallas Police Department. “If we weren’t the first, we were one of the first.”
We checked out the Twitter profiles of various departments around the country as well and couldn’t find a similar situation.
The social media posts aren’t an official policy of the DPD, but rather a “push for transparency” initiative, in Lt. Geron’s words. “[It comes from] a desire to be more transparent and to get our message out to the greater community,” he says.
Chief Brown agrees—characteristically, over Twitter.
We asked for more clarification on what gets dicey, but haven’t heard back. The only dicey reaction we’ve found is in relation to one of the Monday firings, but it’s about the firing itself and not the fact that it was publicized online. The Dallas Police Association is defending Officer Amy Wilburn’s using her weapon on an unarmed person, citing her involvement in a carjacking chase and saying, along with her attorney, that “she was in fear of her life.”
As seen above, the chief is sure to point out that even though the disciplinary actions have been taken, the employees in question have the right to appeal. But their full names are already out there, attached to these tweets. And no “allegedlys” are included.
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Lt. Geron echoes Chief Brown’s comments on how the public announcements have been received among staff: “We’ve had some positive comments from officers and command sharing good thoughts.”
The first post in this initiative, started by Chief Brown, came in February 2011 regarding a police officer’s use of unnecessary force. Nine employees of DPD were fired that year. Then it was 12 in 2012, and 27 in 2013. The DPD employs 3,500 sworn officers, including recruits, and 4,051 total employees, including the 911 call taker Chief Brown mentioned over Twitter.
In a ranking of the 50 most social media-friendly police departments in America’s largest cities for 2013, the DPD was named No. 1 by MPHProgramsList.com. Perhaps the best-known example of a police department using Twitter to actively inform the public in 2013 was the Boston Police Department during the marathon bombings in April. Thus far, they’ve stuck to advisories and pictures of training recruits, and haven’t ventured into disciplinary Twitter territory.
The @DallasPD account has sent a total of 6,605 tweets since its inception, and only 18 of these regard disciplinary announcements or terminations. So that’s less than 1 percent of the tweets, which also state holiday advisories and ask followers for information regarding burglary investigations. But the bulk of those terminated tweets were in 2013, and given that the total number of terminations went up that year as well, this trend may continue to grow in 2014.
UPDATE: Things got significantly more dicey on January 4th when Chief Brown once again took to Twitter to dole out some discipline, social-media style. However, this time, the object of Brown’s 140-character wrath was not a errant public servant, but instead a pushy reporter. Here’s Brown’s tweet, in which he uses some rather choice words:
When we asked Chief Brown about his comments, he apologized for his language and provided an explanation via email. In his own words: