Racy Web posts put officers’ jobs at risk

Complaints about police officers who just can’t resist sharing — or over-sharing — their thoughts and experiences online are keeping the state’s regulatory agency for law enforcement officers busier than ever.

Investigators are spending more and more of their time dealing with officers who post inappropriate statements or racy photographs, said Ken Vance, executive director of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. What started a few years ago as a handful of violations has increased to roughly 50 to 60 such cases per year.

About three-quarters result in revocation of the officers’ certification, which prevents them from working in law enforcement in Georgia, Vance said.

Recent cases range from the merely embarrassing to the downright appalling. They underscore the need for police departments across metro Atlanta to adopt written policies as the use of social media becomes more prevalent.

In one case, it, Thaddeus Lloyd, a Walton County Sheriff’s Deputy, is seen in uniform next to his patrol car, with his hands on the buttocks of a woman who was nude from the waist down.

The photo, which Lloyd said is 11 years old, was taken when Lloyd worked at the city of Clarkston Police Department. It somehow made it onto Myspace and Facebook and was recently found on a confiscated inmate’s cellphone that had been smuggled into a state prison.

Asked by a reporter about the photo at his home last week, Lloyd looked stricken and said he regretted posing for it. Lloyd said he had just gotten off duty when he stopped at a local club where a porn star was making an appearance. The picture of him with the woman was taken by someone else, and Lloyd said he never intended for it to be made public.

“I didn’t think the pictures were going to be posted like that,” Lloyd said. “Someone got a hold of it.”

The Peace Officer Standards and Training Council is still investigating Lloyd. Walton Sheriff Joe Chapman said Lloyd was a good deputy, and he said it’s a shame one picture could cost Lloyd his career.

“I hate all this for that deputy,” Chapman said. “But you’ve got to live by what you do.”

In another case, former University of West Georgia officer Justin Rogers was photographed urinating on a department patrol car after he got a job elsewhere.

Vance said the officer voluntarily surrendered his certification in 2008 after an investigation was launched.

And a city of Auburn police officer resigned in lieu of termination after her daughter posted a picture on Facebook of the female officer taken from the shoulders down. The picture focused on the officer’s breasts, which had just been surgically enhanced, but she wore a shirt with the words “Auburn Police Department.”

Because the woman was fully clothed and was unaware the picture had been posted, Vance said she’ll keep her certification.

It’s not just photographs getting officers in trouble.

A Barrow County Sheriff’s deputy, Lewis Rusgrove, resigned last year after racially tinged political comments on his Facebook page, where he identified himself as a Barrow officer.

Rusgrove told the sheriff, Jud Smith, the comments were motivated by politics and not by hate, according to reports at the time. Smith had suspended Rusgrove before the resignation and said the department could not afford the perception its officers were biased.

Reported infractions will probably get worse as both social media and mobile posting capabilities mushroom, Vance said. He hopes calling attention to the career-ending risk will eventually have an effect.

In training sessions for police executives, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police advises adopting a social media policy and training officers about it, said Frank Rotondo, the association’s executive director. It’s unclear how many departments have written policies, but the association offers a model policy on its website.

In general, the dividing line between personal expression and a career-ending faux pas is when the poster’s identity as a law officer is clear.

Suwanee Police Chief Mike Jones said his department’s policy states employees must refrain from posting pictures that connect them with the city unless they are pre-approved. The department also reviews job applicants’ social media posts.

The issue can go beyond embarrassment.

Some officers’ posts have been used by defense attorneys to get criminal cases dismissed or overturned.

In 2009, for instance, a New York Police Department officer posted on Facebook that he was watching the movie “Training Day” (a movie about police corruption starring Denzel Washington as a rogue cop) to “brush up on proper police procedure.”

Because of that and other comments, a jury dismissed a weapons charge against a defendant the officer had arrested.

“He was probably just joking around,” Jones said, “but it’s perception.”

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What are the rules?

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association offer model policies on use of social media.

Policies often prohibit displays of the department logo, badge or uniform, as well as identifying oneself as an employee. Also off-limits: Any speech or conduct that could be seen as reflecting reckless or irresponsible.