Click here for link to story from photo above.
Will Aitchison is an attorney in Portland, Oregon. Will has been involved in representing police officers, police organizations, as well as cities and police departments. Recently, Will published a podcast titled “Ten Rules for Police Officer Social Media Posts.” You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. Will’s 10 rules are worth sharing. Here they are:
- Your 1st Amendment rights are limited. You are not going to win by relying on your 1st Amendment rights.
- Just because something is an internet meme does not mean you should repost it. If you repost it, then you own it. It is the same as if it came straight from your mouth.
- Nothing you post is private. While you should check your privacy settings, anything can be forwarded or screen-shotted.
- Before you post, ask yourself “How will my employer react to this post?” If the answer is that they will be annoyed or it will lead to an investigation or discipline, then you should ask yourself if it is worth it. I think if you have to ask if it is worth it, just don’t do it.
- Confine posts to purely positive posts — posts that don’t have anything to do with the current law enforcement environment.
- Will says if you are in doubt about a post, wait 24 hours – sleep on it. Or you can ask a respected senior officer what they think. Again, I say if you are in doubt, don’t post it.
- Think – Who are your online “friends?” Are they a tight-knit group? Or do you have “friends” who live on the other side of the country that you do not know? This relates to #3. Nothing is private.
- Can someone figure out that you are a police officer from your profile or some other source? If so, you will be treated as if you posted as a police officer.
- Brady says any evidence of discriminatory conduct or bias must be turned over to the defense. Is your post evidence of discriminatory conduct or bias?
- Before you post or comment, think about your safety and the safety of your job, family, etc. People will find you.
There have been a couple of disciplinary cases here in New Orleans. These are cases that can be prevented. Think before you click post.
On April 9, National Fraternal Order of Police (“NFOP”) President Pat Yoes, former Louisiana FOP (“LAFOP”) President, announced changes to the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (“PSOB”) program as it relates to COVID-19 deaths.
If you are not familiar with the federal PSOB program, it is administered by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Click here for more information on PSOB. The PSOB program pays a benefit of $365,670 to the family of a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. PSOB also pays up to $1,248/month for education expenses for the children of an officer killed in the line of duty. Click here for more information on the PSOB benefit, which changes every year. Click here for the PSOB Fact Sheet.
The PSOB includes deaths caused by “infections diseases” already, but establishing that an officer died from an infectious disease contracted in the line of duty can be difficult. In light of the current circumstances as it relates to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, the resulting illness, the Department of Justice published new guidance regarding PSOB benefits.
In general, BJA will find that the evidence shows a public safety officer with COVID-19 contracted it in the line of duty, when (1) the officer had engaged in line of duty action or activity under circumstances that indicate that it was medically possible that the officer was exposed to the virus, SARS-CoV-2, while so engaged; and (2) the officer did contract the disease, COVID-19, within a time-frame where it was medically possible to contract the disease from that exposure. In addition, in the absence of evidence showing a different cause of death, BJA generally will find that the evidence shows a public safety officer who died while suffering from COVID-19 died as a direct and proximate result of COVID-19.
Of course, we would prefer that everyone is able to make it home from work at the end of every shift safely. Unfortunately, with deaths piling up across the United States, we know that is not reasonable. Some law enforcement officers have already been killed by COVID-19.
The guidance from the Department of Justice as it relates to PSOB benefits essentially makes the families of law enforcement officers who die from COVID-19 presumptively eligible for PSOB benefits as long as it is not medically impossible that the officer contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty.
Merely coming into contact with members of the public or co-workers makes it medically possible an officer is exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Hopefully, at some point soon, we will have a vaccine for this virus. Until then, every additional close interaction with another human being carries with it an increased risk of being exposed to the virus. The DOJ recognizes this in the 1st part of its guidance.
Additionally, it looks like symptoms of COVID-19 can begin as far out as 14-21 days from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Furthermore, once someone develops symptoms, those symptoms could last for 14-21 days (or longer). The DOJ recognizes this in the 2nd part of its guidance.
Finally, the DOJ recognizes that if an officer was suffering from COVID-19 at the time of the officer’s death, it is most likely the death was caused by COVID-19 unless there is evidence of a different cause of death.
In short, the DOJ’s guidance to BJA is that as long as it is not medically impossible for an officer to have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to have contracted COVID-19 as a result of “line of duty action or activity,” then BJA is going to assume that officer’s death to be eligible for PSOB benefits.
While this does not make reporting to work any safer, maybe it can provide law enforcement officers will a little sense of security that their families will receive the PSOB should they make the greatest sacrifice while protecting the public during this coronavirus pandemic. Many thanks to our hometown President, Pat Yoes. Furthermore, thanks to Attorney General Barr and President Trump for their support of law enforcement during this unique time in our history.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members in more than 2,200 lodges. We are the voice of those who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving our communities. We are committed to improving the working conditions of law enforcement officers and the safety of those we serve through education, legislation, information, community involvement, and employee representation. No one knows the dangers and the difficulties faced by today’s police officers better than another officer, and no one knows police officers better than the FOP.
NFOP President Pat Yoes is a Captain for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police, led by President Darrell Basco, has over 6,000 members statewide. The Crescent City Lodge, with President Walter Powers, Jr., has about 2,000 of those members in Louisiana. About 1,100 of those 2,000 members are active members of the New Orleans Police Department. The remainder of Crescent City Lodge members is mostly retired members of the New Orleans Police Department. The Crescent City Lodge represents about 90% of active NOPD officers from Recruits to the Superintendent of Police.
Note: While it is ultimately up to the deceased officer’s agency to submit the PSOB application, the Fraternal Order of Police has assisted agencies with applications for PSOB benefits on numerous occasions.
Below is a new video from the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at L.S.U. The video provides some tips for people who work on the frontlines of the pandemic on how to make home a little safer for their families.
The below video was received from the LSU NCBRT Academy of Counter-Terrorist
Education. It is intended for use as roll call training for law enforcement relative to COVID-19.
This time of year, it is inevitable that an officer or two get in trouble for off-duty conduct. Sometimes the off-duty conduct leads to significant disciplinary action. The FOP will be there for you, as always, but, generally speaking, it is easy to avoid the off-duty behavior that comes to the attention of the Public Integrity Bureau, or Internal Affairs as the case may be.
The vast majority of discipline related to off-duty conduct is related to sex or the use of alcohol.
As police officers, you see it every single day. People who have been drinking make poor decisions. I’m just going to go ahead and say the obvious – Police Officers who have been drinking make poor decisions too. You may be able to get some professional courtesy on a regular traffic stop (and you might not – some officers are real nervous with a BWC and an ICC recording their every word and move), but if you are involved in an accident, the officer may not have any choice but to take action. A close relative of mine was stopped by an officer who used to be one of my subordinates. We did not have a contentious relationship and I helped him out quite a bit. I was surprised to learn that particular officer had arrested someone he knew to be a close relative of mine when he could have just as easily given him a ride home. My relative had not been involved in an accident or anything like that, it was a simple traffic stop. The point is that today’s political atmosphere makes it less likely that officers exercise any type of discretion.
It’s not just driving either. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start an argument with the guy sitting on the barstool next to his. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start a fight with an ex-husband. Did you know it is legal for an officer to carry a concealed firearm in an alcoholic beverage outlet? La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows it, as does the federal laws known as LEOSA. If, however, you think it is a good idea to carry a concealed weapon in a barroom, I would have to ask you if you are drinking while reading this. Just don’t do it. Just FYI, you are not covered by LEOSA if you are intoxicated. Also, for the New Orleans Police Department, Rule 3, Professional Conduct, Paragraph 9, Use of Alcohol/Drugs Off Duty, says that commissioned personnel are forbidden from carrying firearms in an ABO, while consuming alcohol, or while intoxicated. Part of that rule may still violate LEOSA, but La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows the Superintendent to make it a violation of Department rules to carry a firearm in an ABO.
Sex is the next source of off-duty disciplinary action. It is not a good idea to hook up with people you meet on calls for service. It does not matter if they are the complainant or the subject of the complaint.
If you come across someone who looks like they could use a ride home, make sure it is to their home and not yours. Make sure the dispatcher knows about it and that all of the transport mileages are recorded. Finally, make sure all of the recording devices you carry around these days are activated.
There are also police officers involved in abusive relationships. Now, I understand this is not as simple as just saying “don’t do it.” I would, however, like to encourage any officer involved in an abusive relationship to seek help. At the New Orleans Police Department, Cecile Tebo is available at no cost through the Office Assistance Program to help however she can. No matter where you are or what department you work for, there is help available somewhere. Take advantage of that help before you lose your job over it.
The standard, as is always the case, is that the alleged infraction must bear a real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation of the public service. The Courts in Louisiana have applied that rule fairly liberally. That means that if your Department believes there is a real and substantial relationship between the alleged dereliction and the efficient operation of the public service, the Courts are likely to go along with that.
As we are recently reminded by the Louisiana Supreme Court, neither the Commission nor a reviewing court should “second-guess” an appointing authority’s decisions. See Lange v. Orleans Levee District, 10–0140, p. 17 (La.11/30/10), 56 So.3d 925, 936. The Commission and a reviewing court may intervene only when the appointing authority’s decisions are arbitrary and capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion. Id. Moreover, neither the Commission nor the reviewing court may serve as a de facto pardon board. Id. “[S]ympathy is not a legal standard.” Id.Chinh Nguyen v. Dep’t of Police, 2011-0570 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/31/11), 72 So. 3d 939, 944.
Recently, Mayor Cantrell declared a state of emergency due to Hurricane Barry in the Gulf of Mexico. The Fraternal Order of Police (We) received numerous phone calls from officers concerned that the city would pay them correctly. I spoke with the police administration several times and Asst. Superintendent Noel assured me that Superintendent Ferguson was committed to making sure NOPD paid everyone correctly. An email to NOPDAll indicating that there could be a delay in when NOPD would be making payments for the declared state of emergency got officers worried again.
UPDATE (8/1/19) – I started off with warnings not to share your political ideas on Facebook or the like. My recommendation has changed. Do not post anything on Facebook, Twitter, or the like. There are no privacy settings that will protect you. Sometimes it takes it hitting home to really make the message clear. 2 Gretna Police Department officers fired for one Facebook post. However, these days, hitting home does not mean it only hits home. The story of the 2 Gretna officers fired for Facebook posts can also be found in the New York Times. One of the Gretna officers wrote a post. The other officer merely clicked “Like” on the post. Play around with the search bar on Facebook. It is much more powerful than you might imagine. Search Google for tips and tricks for the Facebook search bar.
Just don’t do it. If you want to share pictures of your newborn child with your relatives spread across the country, go ahead – use Facebook – you can’t beat it. However, if you have a joke, a meme, or anything like that, keep it to yourself. When is the last time you tried to convey humor or sarcasm in a text message and it failed completely? It is very difficult to convey emotion or feeling. The same is true with Facebook. To make matters worse, there are those who don’t understand that articles in The Onion are satire, or what satire is. There are people who really believe that the United States Postal Service would create a commercial to brag about the number of fingers shipped by kidnappers. They are quite comical. You will find at least some of them amazing and amusing. However, what you wrote as a police officer can and will get you fired. Hitting a “Like” button is reported in the New York Times.
We post the FOP newsletter in the Crescent City Lodge Facebook Group. Anything wrong with reading that there? No. You probably cannot post in the Crescent City Lodge Facebook Group at all — well, not without approval. Why? It is for your own protection. There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet and nothing goes away. There are some things that are completely beyond your control. This is not one of those things. Educate yourself and protect yourself – click here.
For the last few years, I have tried to give a short tally of my FOP Legal Defense Plan activities. I think where I have fallen short in the past is that my short tallies haven’t been very short. So, this time is going to be different.
If you are in law enforcement, you should be in the FOP Legal Defense Plan. If you work for NOPD, that means you should be a member of Crescent City Lodge #2. If you work for another agency, then you should belong to your local lodge. If you don’t have a local lodge, you might be able to join Lodge 100 or another lodge in your area. You may also be able to start a new lodge. The point is that in 2019, the FOP Legal Plan is as important to a law enforcement officer as what tools are on his duty belt. Police officers should never go to work without wearing a bullet proof vest. Likewise, police officers should never go to work without the FOP’s Legal Defense Plan protecting them also.
In New Orleans, I believe things related to disciplinary investigations have begun to level off. I think the total number of DI-1 investigations or formal disciplinary investigations is probably close to the total for 2017. My stats are pretty close to 2017 also.
413 is the number of individual law enforcement officers I provided some type of legal service. Most of those 413 law enforcement officers were active members of the New Orleans Police Department. Some, however, were from other departments in southeast Louisiana. A few of those 413 law enforcement officers were retirees. Most were administrative disciplinary actions. Some were criminal investigations. Some were civil issues, workers compensation issues, issues with pay, or other issues associated with their employment.
I accompanied officers to 248 interviews in connection with formal disciplinary investigations. This includes statements at NOPD PIB, district stations, and at other agencies.
I attended 98 disciplinary hearings with FOP members. This includes Commander’s hearings, Bureau Chief hearings, Pre-Disposition Conferences, and any other hearings that resulted from a sustained charge in a disciplinary investigation.
I have 110 New Orleans Civil Service extension request hearings in my records. That is almost certainly very low. Sometimes it is better to lay low at extension hearings.
I accompanied 25 FOP members to an Accident Review Board hearing.
I represented FOP members in 14 Civil Service appeal hearings.
In 2018, the Civil Service Commission released 6 decisions in cases I took to a hearing before the hearing officer. In 3 of those decisions, the Civil Service Commission granted the appeal, at least in part. In addition, at least 7 appeals were settled before the hearing. 2018 also included a decision in the protests of 3 police sergeants which I would consider a win. Counting that, my average would go up to .667. In 2017, there were 10 decisions in cases I took to hearing before the hearing officer. In 6 of those 10 cases, the appeal was granted, at least in-part. I recall when I first started handling these types of cases, the Louisiana State Civil Service used to keep detailed records on appeals. 8% of employees were successful in their appeals. I am confident my 50% – 60% win percentage is much better than average. Published Civil Service decisions can be found here.
I was able to notarize 75 documents for FOP members over the course of 2018.
The FOP provides each one of its members 2 hours of legal services for whatever the FOP member may need. I was able to do that for FOP members on 18 occasions in 2018. Sometimes that means drawing up and executing a Last Will and Testament or a Living Will. Sometimes those two hours are put toward something else, like a succession. One way or another, I try to get as much done within the 2 hours as possible.
So, that’s my review of 2018. I will leave everyone with one story from early 2019 before I hit publish.
Very early in 2019, I got a call from an officer about an officer involved shooting. The officer who called said that he wasn’t involved, but two other officers were and he gave me the location. I started in the direction of the scene and I was notified that there were three officers involved. Eventually that turned into four officers and one officer was in the hospital. The officer at the hospital was not injured badly thanks to his body armor which functioned as expected. Once I was on the scene and had spoken to the third officer, i learned that there were a total of 5 officers involved.
Now, this incident is not going to turn into any major production. It is a pretty straight-forward officer involved shooting and it was recorded from start to finish on four different cameras in high-definition. However, had it been a more controversial OIS, I am sure you could imagine what the legal costs would have been for five (5) officers. Fortunately, these officers all would have been protected by the FOP Legal Defense Plan if they would have really needed it.
It turns out the 5th officer on the scene of this OIS had recently graduated from the Academy and was in field training. I walked over to talk to him with a member of the FIT team. The FIT sergeant introduced himself and then went to introduce me and the officer in training said “Let me guess – my FOP attorney.” Sure enough. After we talked about public safety statements and what to expect, I asked this officer if he had my phone number. He kind of laughed to himself and said that I had been in his class recently at the Academy recently and I had told everyone to keep my number. He related to me that he had sat there thinking that he would never need it and did not put my number in his phone.
Put mt number in your phone. Who knows when you will need it? You can use it whenever you want. It might be something stupid. It might be something critical. It doesn’t matter to me or the FOP.