Police Department background checks delve into Facebook history

Just how far should background screening delve into the private lives of candidates? If you want to be a Police officer candidate for some Police Departments in the US, you may have to undergo some deep digging into your background.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the largest group of Police executives, recently released a report on the practice of those Police Departments background screening their recruits. The report outlined that over a third of association member Police Departments actively review applicants’ social media activity during background checks.

These background checks include reviewing Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube for any unreasonable, objectionable or criminal behaviour. The Police Departments regard such online activity as being in the public domain and thus reasonable to be check upon.

For more sensitive positions that require a positive vetting level of background checking, some Police Departments are demanding that applicants provide private passwords, screen names, details of text messages and even email logs. To enable these checks, the Departments either request waivers from candidates or full disclosure of their internet activity. However, some data privacy advocates say such background investigations may be going too far.

One reason for this approach by Police Departments has been the development of Criminal defense lawyers trawling Police officers’ posts to social network sites to undercut their credibility as witnesses in court. Any indication that a Police Officer has a bias against certain racial or ethnic groups will be seized upon by a defense lawyer. One such incident involved a Police Officer who became a member of a Facebook group called `Wanting to hit people in the back of the head who get in your way’. The defense attorney claimed this showed that the Officer was prone to violence and breaking rules.

As new candidates have been raised connecting on the internet and are prone to post photographs, images, musings and comments on the web, the incidence of inappropriate material linked to Police Officers and others in positions of authority will only grow. Matters are likely to progress to a stage whereby prospective employers will check social networking profiles they way they have previously scanned their high school performance.

Here are a few tips for likely candidates for law enforcement positions as they engage in social networking:

  1. Once something has been posted and indexed, it is nigh on indelible
  2. The ownership of posts on some sites become the property of the site
  3. What may seem hilarious on a Saturday night may not look so amusing on a Tuesday morning
  4. If you wouldn’t want your mum to see it or read about it in the newspaper, best not post
  5. If in doubt, leave it out

Are you seeking assistance with Pre Employment Screening of employees or contractors? If so, we at Regents can help you – just visit our Pre Employment Screening Webpage for further information