By Daniel J. Chacón
The Santa Fe Police Department quietly rolled out a new social media policy last week that prohibits officers from making or sharing posts that ridicule any race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any other protected class of individuals.
The policy, which went into effect Friday, comes less than two months after the department launched an investigation into the highly publicized Facebook posts of police Sgt. Troy Baker, president of the police union. Baker’s posts included memes with politically charged comments about Muslims, African-Americans, transgender people and immigrants.
Police department spokesman Greg Gurulé said in an email that the new policy wasn’t a direct result of Baker’s Facebook posts. “But it revealed some deficiencies in a policies that we needed to address,” he said.
Mayor Javier Gonzales, an openly gay man who has been a staunch advocate for the transgender community and immigrants, brought up Baker’s Facebook posts during budget hearings Monday when police Chief Patrick Gallagher appeared before the city Finance Committee. Gonzales didn’t mention Baker by name but referred to him as “a police officer that was in the papers” over social media posts that were “very hurtful,” particularly to immigrants and transgender people “and almost anyone else that didn’t necessarily fit within that officer’s belief system.”
One meme Baker shared included an image of a transgender woman holding her crotch, apparently in pain, with a statement that said: “When you get shot in the groin by a rubber bullet and your made-up gender doesn’t protect your willie.”
The officer’s controversial Facebook posts were uncovered by the Santa Fe Reporter. Baker, a 22-year veteran of the police department, did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Gonzales said he had to keep his personal views, as well as his views as mayor of Santa Fe, about the officer’s Facebook posts to himself because they involve a personnel issue in process. But he said it was important for him to express “that type of behavior from an officer hurts 100 percent of the rest of the efforts” of the police department.
“I think it’s a stain and certainly hurtful to members of minority communities that believe us when we say Santa Fe is a safe and welcoming city, that Santa Fe is a city that works hard against discrimination,” Gonzales said.
“… I want to express my profound disappointment in that conduct and also publicly state that I know that it’s very isolated and not conduct that is representative of the Santa Fe Police Department,” Gonzales added. Still, he said, if such behavior goes unaddressed, people begin to believe that the city is willing to tolerate it.
Gallagher said he couldn’t discuss the issue because it is a personnel matter. “I’m glad that you said it does not reflect the department as a whole because it does not,” he told the mayor Monday.
“Where there was no policy in place,” Gallagher added, “there is one now.”
The new policy recognizes social media as a “potentially valuable means of assisting the department and its personnel” in community outreach, problem solving, investigative techniques, crime prevention and other law enforcement objectives.
“The Department also recognizes the role that social media plays in the personal lives of some Department employees,” the policy states. “However, the personal use of social media can have bearing on employees in their official capacity as they are held to a higher standard by the community.”
The policy advises employees to “be mindful that their speech becomes part of the worldwide electronic domain.”
“Employees may express themselves as private citizens on social media sites as long as employees do not … make, share, or comment in support of any posting that ridicules, maligns, disparages, expresses bias, or animus toward any race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other protected class of individuals.”
Employees are also prohibited from making, sharing or commenting on posts that include obscene or sexually explicit language, images or acts or that include threats of violence or endorse dishonesty or illegal behavior.
“Employees shall make reasonable efforts to remove content appearing on their social media account that violates this policy upon learning of the offensive content,” the policy states.
In addition to adopting a new social media policy, Gallagher told the mayor and members of the Finance Committee on Monday that the police department plans to engage the community.
“As a result of some of the community being very upset, we are in the process of exploring ways to create community dialogue on the very issue,” he said. “The officer involved is interested in participating.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.