Being a cop who blogs can be a double edged sword. On one edge, it can be a great tool to express yourself. You can vent some of the stress that comes with the job, talk through some troubling experiences and do some self-analysis. It also forces you to write and helps to hone your literary skills…a bonus in this line of work. If you are serious about it and try to maintain a stream of fresh content, blogging can all but force you to keep abreast of new developments in law enforcement as you prowl the internet and trade-rags for post ideas.
The other (“bad”) edge is the risk a cop can take when he delves too far into controversial opinion, or even just makes comment about his work. It seems that people can find offense in anything a cop says and would gladly write to your chief or the local media about it.
I had an “incident” a number of years ago that illustrates this. I had a, what I thought was, anonymous blog where I wrote some short blurbs about interesting calls/arrests I had been involved in. A running journal so to speak. The names, dates and locations were left out “to protect the innocent” of course.
Let me digress for a little back-story…I am associated with a local martial arts instructor and am close friends with one of his senior students. This instructor has a longstanding feud going with another local instructor. I was never really involved in any of this, but back then I was participating in an internet martial arts forum with them. As luck would have it this forum was (is still??) sponsored by this rival instructor and hosted by one of his students. There was a little verbal sparring over martial arts politics and I threw in my opinion (as I have one for every occasion). Little to my knowledge at the time…a couple of my co-workers were/are this guys students.
Some of the posts on this now defunct blog mentioned SWAT operations I was involved in. While I was on the team there was this “what happens on the team stays on the team”“code”. As my entries were so “brown bag plain” and my blog so lightly trafficked, it never dawned on me that I was in violation of this “code”. If I thought I was I would have kept those posts “private”.
Well… one sunny morning I was dispatched to the department range. Thinking nothing of it I was blindsided when the team Sgt and Lt greeted me with some printed copies of my blog that had been supplied from some source they would not reveal to me. They were “cool” about it all and in the long run there was really no disciplinary action they could take on it. It was not against any departmental policy..only this “team code”. There was nothing controversial in my posts, nothing that would have cast me or the department in a bad light. The meeting was more to make a “request” to either delete or make private these posts. Not wanting to risk my position on the team and in the end not really caring about some blog if it was going to cause me embarrassment at work, I deleted it all.
It was never confirmed, but I’m fairly confident that some internet spat over martial arts bullshit lead to this rival instructor digging up my blog from my forum profile, where I stupidly linked it along with my name. From there I think he had one of his students, who happened to be one of my co-workers, deliver it to my supervisors (without ever talking to me about it) in a half-assed attempt to either silence me on this internet forum, get me into trouble, or both. As he made other unsuccessful attempts after this I’m fairly confident in my estimation of events. Only another cop would strategize that what I was writing could get me in trouble with the team as that was the only place I was vulnerable.
In the end it didn’t lead to anything (hell I’ve since been promoted..twice) but some disappointment when I realized that people who I thought “had my back” would stab me in it over petty bullshit. Placing “martial arts loyalty” over “the thin blue line” was something that never crossed my mind. The blessing of this incident was the opening of my eyes and the end of my “total trust in the brotherhood” naivete. I have since become much more savvy in my politics and in my behavior.
This little experience got me to thinking about what repercussions there could have been if I had posted anything with a racial, political or controversial aspect to it…intentional or otherwise. This blog here, while not mentioning my name or department, has links to various other sources that could make it possible to figure out where I work with a little bit of digging. Therefore you will see little in the way of political commentary or otherwise controversial content.
For blogging coppers out there who think that there may be a chance that what they say could come back and bite them on the ass, I suggest that you take measures to remain anonymous from the moment you start your blog. Keep various things in mind; e-mail addresses, mention of your name, your co-workers/local politicians/arrestees names, your jurisdictions name or even hyperlinks that connect to identifying material elsewhere and can be tracked back to you. Don’t link your blog to other forums where your identity is known…and ultimately decide what battles are worth fighting and what hill is worth “making your stand on” before you post something to the internet.