When Google Isn't Enough

In building on my recent post of Google Yourself, some employers are taking more aggressive steps to ensure that new hires don't embarrass their organization. Recently, the New York Police Department began forcing recruits to provide login information for their MySpace and Facebook accounts. An article by Gothamist includes this:

...The Post reports that one recruit's page featured a picture of him pointing a gun at a friend and a couple of others "whose networking accounts included boasts of gang membership, or photos of the applicant sporting gang-related tattoos and making gang gestures."

Previously the department's only policy had been to Google candidates and view what their public material—now they're being forced to log in. A 2007 investigation by the Daily News found accounts for a cop who proudly displayed videos of police brutality, one who had pictures of flashing women in front of their squad car and a rant from an officer irate against the indictments for officers in the Sean Bell case...
One of the images found on a recruit's computer was this one--certainly not something that a recruit trying to maintain a spotless record wants linked to him/her (from the Daily News):

Exercising additional controls on candidates and new hires is not an unusual strategy for police administrators. When I attended the police academy, we signed waivers as recruits that allowed supervisory personnel to search our vehicles when parked on agency property.

The results of these searches did not impact any members of our recruit class, but one employee was disciplined from a previous class for weapons (unloaded) found in his car. That employee managed to graduate, but was terminated a few months later for a separate incident.

It will be interesting to see what additional efforts police agencies use to identify the best candidates for police officer.


Sandra G. said...

I'm not really all that surprised by the NYPD requiring log-ins for MySpace etc....

What DOES surprise me is that people do not seem to understand that what is put on the web, stays on the web - forever (or until all of technology goes bust). Photos, articles and comments - like the one I am writing - will be here for anyone with computer know-how to locate.


Slamdunk said...

Excellent point Sandra.

I saw an interesting discussion on another website regarding parents who put pictures of their children on their blogs. Persons on one side of the argument (to which I agree with) stated that this could be dangerous in allowing potentially unstable people to be attracted to your children's photos or even the kids themselves.

Also on more of a funny note, that it could be embarrassing for the children as they got older and their friends found out about it--as you said since those photos will remain on the web potentially forever.

mappchik said...

I read this a couple days ago, and it got me thinking. Had to hold off on commenting until I put it together.

I understand police departments checking out MySpace and Facebook pages of recruits. When it stops someone who is abusive of the public trust, as in the officer who was displaying the flashing women without their consent, or the officer who revelled in the police brutality videos, I think it's a great thing.

What if an officer or recruit has friends who post material from L.E.A.P, or was himself a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy or some sort of pro-drug / anti-government group in college? Or follows blogs like Radley Balko's (TheAgitator.com), which track cases of police brutality and botched drug raids? All sorts of "objectionable" material could be on his page which makes no difference to his commitment to Protect & Serve.

Or, something photo related - what if an officer or recruit who has snapshots himself and pals pointing guns at each other, but it's on the paintball field? It looks bad, out of context.

Again, I think it's a good thing to check these folks out online, but who is doing the checking? Are they taking the time to apply common sense while they read, or will it be a blanket no tolerance policy, which sweeps the good out with the bad?

Slamdunk said...

Great point MC. From one of the articles that I read on the NYPD's new review process, an investigator stated that they did not have a policy currently as to the process and scope for the searches. He said something to the extent of "We know the bad stuff when we see it."

Obviously, this may work most of the time, but could backfire on the agency as in some of the instances that you mention. My feeling is that their tactic would not be upheld legally if one of the candidates complained.

The news reports also describe the searches as limited to recruits (persons that can be more easily dismissed)--as I imagine that this type of digging would not be approved by officers with civil status and union membership.

My guess is that they will continue to use this process until challenged. In reality, the population that could challenge, officer recruits, are primarily people avoiding negative attention and unlikely to--as that means termination from the current employer and a very difficult time landing another officer job.