Friday, October 9, 2009

Police officers and freedom of speech (part three)

Thinking about joining our Speakers Bureau as a serving law enforcement officer?

It can be tricky to do. There's no manual on how to achieve the balancing act of criticizing national drug policy while off-duty, and then enforcing those same laws while on-duty. So I've put together a ten point list of steps you can take to protect your career. It's based on Jay Fisher's legal research as well as a few of my own, err, missteps.

If a serving officer wishes to publicly support drug policy reform, the best practices to avoid censure or termination would most likely include the following:

1) The officer publicly states that he or she is speaking as an individual.

2) The officer declares that he or she is not speaking at the forum as a representative of the employing agency.

3) The officer states that he or she recognizes the drug war as a matter of great public importance that deserves an honest and open debate.

4) The officer states that he or she has and will continue to execute the laws of his or her state or country fully and fairly because that is the sworn duty of a law enforcement officer.

5) Prior to making a first public appearance as a LEAP speaker, the officer should consider approaching their supervisors and senior managers. This isn't a requirement but it is an important courtesy step that can go a long way toward reducing any potential tension.

6) The officer should seek credible venues for participating in the drug reform policy debate. There are plenty of opportunities including conferences, professional journals and various media outlets. The officer should avoid venues where there are likely to be planned or spontaneous acts civil disobedience, including open drug use.

7) The officer should interact carefully with local media. In fact, it may be easier to focus on national or out-of-state media. Again, this not a legal requirement but it can be helpful to extend this courtesy to colleagues as well as the employing agency.

8) The officer should generally avoid publicly criticizing specific officers or law enforcement agencies, police unions and associations. However, umbrella associations are fair game, as well as law enforcement advocacy groups such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police. These organizations participate in the political process by lobbying politicians, making political donations and recommending new laws or suggesting changes to existing laws.

9) The officer should continue to enforce drug laws while on duty if that is part of his or her job description. Of course, discretion will always be part of law enforcement and each LEAP speaker needs to find their own comfort zone when it comes to discretion versus enforcement.

10) The officer should document the above efforts and keep that documentation in a private place. Just in case things really go sideways.

Is there anything I missed?

1 comment:

  1. I am not an officer, but I'm really glad to see point #8. In fact, as a citizen I'd like to see those types of organizations become publicly exposed to a greater degree.

    I often see media reports quote those organizations in ways that make it easy for readers to infer official law enforcement endorsement. They are not required to take these reasonable and fair measures nearly as seriously as a LEAP speaker or representative. In my mind that disparity is a violation of the 1st amendment.


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