Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Cops are Partial to "No Comment"

Kathy Bennett has been a Los Angeles Police Officer for over twenty years, with most of her career spent working the streets of L.A. Most people see police officers as a badge and uniform. Today, Kathy gives us insight into how, even off-duty, police officers have to limit their public exposure.

(Note: Kathy is not only out of town, but had a virus attack her computer. She's promised to check in whenever she can, so feel free to post comments, ask questions, and be your usual friendly selves.)

I’ve been a Los Angeles Police Officer for more than twenty years. I’d wanted to be, not just any cop, but an LAPD officer from the time I was twelve. Wearing the badge and uniform of the LAPD was a dream – and one, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d achieve. I’m not the biggest, strongest, or even a remotely athletic female. But what I do possess is a strong determination. A trait my husband likes to call my stubborn streak. That resilience served me well in my Academy training where my physical endurance was put to the test daily.

Another quality I’m blessed with, is a strong sense of opinion. I’ve got views on almost everything; and depending on how well I know you, you might hear some of them. But one thing I hadn’t considered in becoming an officer, nor was I prepared for in starting my career, was the way I’d have to censor my opinions.

Oh, I’d expected that when I was in uniform I’d have to put aside my personal beliefs when dealing with the public. But what about when I’m off-duty? It seems reasonable I should be able to talk to friends, neighbors and say whatever the heck I’d like, right? Hold that thought for a minute.

I bet many of you belong to social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook or some other place where people get online and ‘chat’. In addition to posting your progress in building farms, slaying other Mafias, or conquering new frontiers, many of you will post comments about causes you support or groups you belong to, or just an opinion about the state of the world. And most of you don’t give it another thought.

I think we’ve all seen unfortunate examples of someone posting a flaming comment via e-mail that was accidently sent to a whole bunch of people rather than the intended receiver. I think most writers are savvy enough not to trash talk agents, editors and other writers in a public forum. But if you DID choose to make an opinionated comment, what would be the worst that could happen? You’d never get published by that house, or sign a contract with your dream agent?

But as a police officer, let’s say that I made a strong statement on a social networking site about beauty queens being photographed wearing next to nothing – a recent hot topic around the country. Then, let’s say, in the scope of my duties as an LAPD officer, I go to work the next day and get involved in a situation where I wind up arresting a beauty queen. Do you think my comments on the social networking site won’t be brought to the public for their scrutiny? Those comments will be made public, likely via the media who will put their own ‘spin’ on my post in order to garner viewers. Do you see how an ‘innocent’ comment online, for the world to see, could become a strong piece of evidence either for or against me? Do you think my online comments wouldn’t become part of any subsequent investigation? Think about those questions if the situation were more serious than a simple arrest.

For several years, experts have been warning ‘young people’ to be careful what they publish online because they never know when a future employer will be looking online for insight into a future employee – and it’s good advice.

Recently, police officers have been warned by their unions to be careful about their online postings because you never know how those comments, photos, or opinions may be perceived at a later date…and for a cop, the results of a careless word could be a career and financial disaster.

Right now, I have to think very carefully when I’m online about what I say and how I say it. Down the road, when I retire I’ll be able to be a little more free with my opinions. But until that time, when it comes to the scantily clad beauty queens, or any other political, social, or media worthy issues, I’ve got one thing to say…No Comment!

Kathy writes suspense novels and is a finalist in the Orange County Chapter’s Orange Rose contest. To learn more about Kathy, her writing, and police experiences, visit her at www.KathyBennett.com.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Kathy, this is an aspect of a police officer's life I never really thought about. It gives me a better look at the person behind the badge for characters in my writing. I can think of many ways to use this in my writing. Thanks,

Pat Marinelli

Randall LaBranche said...

Thanks for your story Kathy. I teach Social Media Workshops and this is a very interesting take from your point of view as a police officer. (I may even use your 'beauty queen' example in my course!)

P.A.Brown said...

I had never really thought about that, but it makes sense. I can imagine what a defense attorney would make of a comment by an officer that could show prejudice against his client.

Now a question: what about the rest of an officers family? How would it be looked upon if an officer's spouse, sibling, parent or child made some public opinion being blasted all over the Internet? Especially if it was really vitriolic? What about if a close family friend did the same?

We all know we don't choose our relatives, but what might be the repercussions of this?

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Pat!

One of the things I strive to do in my current position with the LAPD is to educate. And the fact is, most people wouldn't think of this situation unless they WERE a cop.

Thanks for your comment.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Randall!

Hmmm. I bet you have lots of interesting stories as well with teaching Social Media Workshops.

Well, of course, my comments are just my opinion...but I suspect I'm not the only cop out there who is self-monitoring.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Pat B!

I think a defense attorney would have their work cut out for themselves tying an officer to a family member's online comments.

Just because my daughter hates root beer and says so every chance she gets, does that mean I feel that way? Nope. I like root beer - especially with ice cream! In real life, my daughter likes root beer too.

Kathy Bennett said...

Oh, Pat B...Thanks for finding me here too!

Joyce Henderson said...

Interesting! And that you wanted to be an LA cop for so long and achieved your goal is inspiring for writers who submit and get rejections. Nothing can replace perseverance.

I'm wary of ever building a Facebook presence. For one thing, I AM opinionated and would undoubtedly stick my size 7s in my mouth on a regular basis. LOL

Protecting personal information is another issue. From what I've heard voiced by other authors, Facebook can and does change rules without notice.

Then of course there's the biggest personal issue. I'm too darn lazy to build and maintain several venues, which probably limits my footprint. But, hey, I do have the time to sit in my cave and write my stories. Hopefully my books speak for me.

Kathy, thank you for what you do. Police work is a dangerous profession in the best of times. I lived in Manhattan Beach and regularly drove through the Watts area crossing the LA basin. The riots in the 60s shocked the pants off me. I'd never felt threatened driving in that area, even late at night, until that time.

We had a fireman friend, a captain, and after his crew was shot at for trying to put out fires in homes in the area, he said, Nope, won't force my crew to help those people, only volunteers will man my trucks. And of course they did.

That's what servants like fireman and cops do! And thank God for every single one of you.

Lynne Marshall said...

Great points, Kathy. Can't tell you how many times I've gone back and erased what I've written before I hit send!

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Joyce!

Yeah, tell me about rejections . I'm very proud to be a police officer and glad I got to achieve that dream. For all you agents and editors reading this, my NEW dream is to be a published author!

I try to be diplomatic as to what I say on FB, but I will tell you, there have been times I wanted to make a very 'real' comment and thought the better of it. Fortunately, when FB does change the rules for privacy issues, it gets circulated pretty quickly...at least with my fabulous friends!

You don't have to thank me for doing my job - I'm doing it because, for me, it was a good fit. As far as being shocked...pretty hard to do anymore. While I was a youngster in the 60's, I was working the streets during the 'civil unrest' after the Rodney King trial. I was pretty new to my career and THAT was an eye-opener - to see one man carrying a sofa on his back as he ran down the street!

And while it wasn't necessary for you thank me and my fellow first responders...it's always very much appreciated.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Lynne!

Thanks for coming to Terry's Place.

Ha! Thank goodness for the delete button. On the other hand, there HAVE been a few times I've sent something a later regretted it. Luckily, those times are very few and far between!

Tanya Hanson said...

SUper thoughts on the subject Kathy. I am pretty careful of what I post on these sites. Ya just never know LOL oxox

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Kathy,

I used to want to be a cop for the LAPD when I was in 7th grade and fell in love with Kent McCord of Adam-12.
But I do have a question, how tight is the brotherhood of cops? You always see movies and TV shows about it, especially with regards to protecting dirty cops--Serprico or something. I'm assuming there aren't as many cops on the 'take' as Hollywood portrays.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Tanya!

Thanks for coming!

Exactly...you just never know when it's going to come back and bite you!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Very good advice! I think we all need a reminder to be cautious in our posting. Thank you.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Very interesting! I think this makes a lot of sense...and for many different professions. Thanks for the post.

GunDiva said...

I agree with Elizabeth - this makes a lot of sense for many professions. It's something that I try to impress upon my students too. The problem is that some of them just don't think it will happen to them (being caught by something said online).

Keena Kincaid said...

Great post, Kathy. I've very aware of how personal comments could affect my public reputation, but to be honest I've never thought about the legal aspect of it.

Thanks for making me think.

Allison Brennan said...

Hi Kathy, always great to read your insights! After working in the legislature for 13 years, where one of the legislators I worked for said, "Don't say or do anything you don't want to see on the front page of the L.A. Times" (he was from LA County) I think twice before I post anything. There have been times I've stuck my neck out because I believed extra-strongly about something--but knew that I was also taking a risk by making my opinion public. And sometimes I've posted things too quickly and regretted it. I try not to get involved in anything controversial online, though if a friend is under attack I'll usually comment.

The Old Silly said...

Well that was interesting and fun ... getting some "inside scoop" from the mind of a cop. Pretty cool. Thanks, Kathy and Terri!

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Kathy O!

Well, when you say 'brotherhood', I suspect it's kind of like soldiers who have been in life-threatening situations together. A bond is formed. Is that bond enough to compromise a person's integrity? I would say that depends upon each officer and they code they live by. Is there wide-spread corruption in my department...NO. Like any other occupation, there is the occasional 'bad apple'. We're pretty good at weeding those folks out. Lord knows we have enough people working in the units that handle such matters.

I can't say it enough...do not believe what you see on TV when it comes to cop shows!

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Jacqueline!

You're welcome! I'm hear to educate! Thanks for commenting.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Elizabeth!

Yes, watching what you post is good advice no matter what your position in life is...especially children! If you haven't talked to your kids about this - you should!

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi GunDiva!

Ah, perhaps you're a teacher...that's the problem with being young - you think you're invincible. But still, if you talk about and get just one child to think before they post pictures of themselves half-naked, or saying something completely not good, it's time well spent.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Keena!

Yep, there could be legal ramifications for folks other than cops. I just think we're pretty easy targets!

Thanks for commenting.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Allison!

Yes, I know the conflict of having something important to add to a post or online conversation, but worrying about how it can affect you down the line. It's a fine line to walk - and I too will occasionally put myself out a little further than I'd like. Usually, it comes when someone attacks the law enforcement profession and, from they're post, it's obvious they have no clue what we do or why we do it.

I appreciate your stopping by to comment.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Old Silly!

You may not want to prowl around my mind too much right now. I think I 'killed' my cell phone earlier today. I'm not a happy camper!

I'm glad you found it an interesting topic. I thought a long time about what would make a good guest blog.

I do appreciate you coming by and commenting.

Kathy Bennett said...


I will be off-line until later tonight, but I will reply to any comments or questions you have when I'm back online probably after 11:00 p.m. PST...

Annabelle Ambrosio said...

Interesting subject. It's a sad, but true statemet tha freedom of speech has its limits. The police have a difficult job and deserve lots of respect.

Lilly Gayle said...

Excellent post! But how very unfortunate that every word we utter can be misconstrued and taken out of content in order to further someone elses' cause or opinion.

Kathy said...

Hi Kathy I try to monitor what I post any more on facebook. My sister wants me to show her how to get on it I decided uhm no lol. Living with her is bad enough.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Annabelle!

I really hate that I can't 'just speak my mind'. But I suppose sometimes it's for the best.

Thank you for your recognition of how hard the life of a police officer is...or can be. While the outside stresses are certainly a factor, the internal issues also play a big part.

Thank you for coming by and commenting.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Lilly!

Yes, a single word or action can be misconstrued. Now, imagine you drive a car that might as well have a target on it - you wear an outfit that is recognizable to almost everyone in America and many of those outside, and you say or do something that is totally innocent - but you wind up on the news or Youtube or some other media venue.

No wonder we are wary.

Thanks for your comment.

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Kathy...is this Kathy #3?

Sure are a lot of Kathys on this blog!

So, how old is your sister? My granddaughter wants to get a FB account - but her Mom says no. I totally agree.

I'm thinking she needs to be 18 or so. The problem is, that young people seem to think they know it all (I NEVER felt that way ) when in fact, they are ripe for the duping by those who are older and recognize how to manipulate a young mind. Watch carefully!

Thank you for stopping by to chat.

Kathy Bennett said...

I'm guessing that's going to be it for today. I've really enjoyed exchanging ideas and meeting so many of you.

I can't thank Terry Odell enough for letting me come to visit in Terry's Place.

I hope you'll visit us both in the future! Thank you!

LaVerne Clark said...

Nope - that's not all for the day Kathy. Hi Kathy and Terry : )

We've had a funny instance in New Zealand recently where a policeman apprehended a young suspect in a car break-in. His shift was being filmed for a cop show on local TV. The policeman pulled up and questioned the young man about where he'd been and he answered he was hungry and went to buy a pie. The officer filled in space while something was being checked by his partner and came up with the classic line, "Did you blow on the pie? It's been sitting in the warmer for the last 12 hours. It'll be thermo-nuclear by now. Always blow on the pie. Safer communities together." That last bit is the slogan the police use on their cars and advertisements. Well - it got uploaded to Utube and went global. Someone printed tee-shirts with "always blow on the pie. Safer communities together" and the policeman has become a reluctant hero : ) Very funny!

Thanks for the blog Terry. Always great content!

Kathy Bennett said...

Hi Laverne!

I posted a comment this morning, but it apparently didn't come through.

I said becoming a media sensation (for a cop) is a cop's worst nightmare.

But thanks for the early morning laugh!