Complaints Lead Everett Police And City Hall To Clarify Employee Social Media Policy

December 23, 2020

Everett Government, Police Blotter

There are lots of opinions that people are expressing on social media but if you work for a Government agency what are the rules? That’s the issue leaders in Everett are examining.

Editor’s Note: The following story contains links to investigative reports that include examples of content posted on social media accounts that some readers may find objectionable. They are included in order to present the story as it was reviewed by the City of Everett. Redactions to the reports are from the City of Everett. There is also a link to the new policy regarding social media usage for members of the Everett Police Department. Leland Dart, Publisher.

After getting complaints from people on how an Everett Police employee handled a personal social media account as well as the account listed for the Everett Police Officers Association, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin sent out a Twitter message advising of an investigation. That Tweet was sent on November 18th. Here it is.

This Tweet was posted by the Mayor. Click to enlarge.

Upon seeing that message asked the City of Everett to be notified once the investigation was completed and we received notice today (12-23-2020).

The investigation was handled by Michael Duerr, a Human Resources Manager with the City of Everett and Kay Barnes, Equity Manager for the City of Everett. The complaint was brought by a citizen who provided the City with multiple examples of social media posts. That citizen also was interviewed by Duerr and Barnes.

The officer who established the personal social media account and the account for the Everett Police Officers Association was interviewed along with a relative who claimed to be involved with the personal account.

Here is a portion of the investigation report and the questions Duerr and Barnes considered.

“the content of the social media presented by the citizen filing the complaint can be, to a segment of the population, considered offensive and even hurtful. The focus of our inquiry, however, was not on whether the tweets would be offensive to readers in the general public, but rather on their impact of those tweets in the workplace. To this end, we must consider whether the tweets, if fairly attributed to an Everett police officer, would result in the perception that the officer would engage in biased policing on the job. Likewise, we must consider whether the tweets, if fairly attributed to an Everett police officer, would have the potential to cause operational difficulties within the chain of command or in relationships with coworkers where cohesion and unity are important. A final point of consideration would be whether the tweets, if fairly attributed to an Everett police officer, would be seen as condoning unlawful acts such as violence against people who hold different views.”

Duerr and Barnes report can be found here in redacted form as provided by the City of Everett.

Twitter Investigation – REDACTED FINAL

That report was delivered to City of Everett Human Resources Director Kandy Bartlett who in turn advised Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman that she did not recommend disciplinary action be taken against the officer. One major reason is excerpted from the report here.

The City and police department do not yet have policies setting forth the expectations for social media postings and describing what is and what is not appropriate. The policy is currently being drafted and reviewed, in part to ensure that it does not improperly restrict First Amendment protected speech rights. The lack of a policy on point also weighs against disciplinary action, as there was not clear notice of what was and was not prohibited in this circumstance.

While the policy is being drafted, I suggest cautioning all employees about the importance of using discretion in their private postings to avoid lessening the confidence of the public that City employees will provide fair, equitable, and professional treatment to everyone it serves.

You can read the Police Recommendations report from HR Director Bartlett to Chief Templeman here.

Police Reccomendations _Redacted

Here are statements from the Mayor and Police Chief issued by the City of Everett this afternoon.

From Mayor Cassie Franklin:

“As soon as I was made aware of these social media posts, we asked our HR team to investigate. The team conducted a thorough review with support from outside legal counsel. The investigators concluded that no city policies had been violated. This has, however, revealed areas of weakness in the city’s social media policies, which we are addressing immediately so that the online activity of our public servants reflects the professionalism we expect in their daily work.”

From Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman:

“While I am pleased to learn that the tweets from a personal social media account of an Everett Police Department (EPD) employee were not actually authored by our employee, this situation has led EPD to prioritize the adoption and implementation of a new social media policy. This experience has also served as a good reminder to all our employees to maintain control and security over personal social media accounts. It has also underscored that how we present ourselves and our opinions on-line can have an impact on not only our personal reputations, but more importantly, on the degree of trust that our public has in us to fairly and impartially carry out our duties as police officers and serve our community every day with honor, professionalism and integrity.”

That brings us to the status of the City’s social media policy for employees. Kimberely Kline, Director of Communications provided with the following.

Regarding social media policies:

EPD has been developing a social media policy for awhile, well before this matter arose. As Chief notes in his remark above, this investigation did however help prioritize its adoption and implementation. The new EPD policy is being rolled out this week. The new policy sets forth expectations for employees regarding social media postings and describes what is and is not appropriate, while at the same time ensuring that the City does not improperly restrict an employee’s First Amendment protected speech rights.

The new EPD social media policy has been incorporated into the EPD Policy Manual; I’ve attached the relevant excerpt. This policy is being rolled out as a Training Bulletin to all police employees via our online training portal, Target Solutions.

Social Networking Activity and Free Expression FINAL

We have also been working on an update of the City’s social media policy. This update began earlier this year and also was not triggered by this investigation. Among the updates will be guidance similar to the new EPD policy, setting expectations around employee use of social media. We aim to have it completed in early 2021.


About myeverettnews

My Everett News is a hyperlocal news website featuring breaking news and events in Everett, WA. We also cover City of Everett information and items of interest to those who live and work in Everett. It's written by Leland Dart a former Snohomish County based radio reporter born and raised in Everett.

View all posts by myeverettnews