By Kathleen McKiernan
BOSTON — Police recruits, watch your tweets.
Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association is slamming proposed
legislation it says would limit the ability to give full background
checks to recruits.
The law would prohibit department heads from scouring personal social
media accounts. The group wants to be able to dig through social media
profiles to help screen candidates and protect the public from those who
could “tarnish the badge.”
The bill, sponsored by state Sen.
Cynthia Stone Creem of Newton, would block employers and educational
institutions from requesting or forcing a student or employee to give
access to their social media accounts. The bill passed in a 36-0 vote in
the Senate on March 15.
The MCOPA said the bill handcuffs local
chiefs and makes them unable to review a candidate’s social media for
red flags like racist or homophobic posts.
It comes as more law enforcement officials are under scrutiny for social media posts.
this month, the state police suspended trooper Matthew Sheehan
indefinitely without pay as officials investigate whether Sheehan wrote
posts under the screen name “Big Irish” that disparaged minority
communities and discussed the use of force on the job.
Last June, a
Boston police patrolman, officer Joseph DeAngelo Jr., was suspended for
six months without pay, with another six months probation, and was
forced to undergo unconscious bias retraining after posting a racially
The chiefs association said social media posts can
provide “a great deal of insight and information to law enforcement
agencies during this initial hiring phase.”
Dudley police Chief
Steven Wojnar said if chiefs can’t look at a candidate’s social media
during the hiring process, it is a “disservice” to cities and towns,
especially considering 88 percent of individuals between 18 and 29 — the
prime hiring age for police departments — have some social media
“We want to find everything we can on an individual and
make sure they are acceptable,” Wojnar told the Herald. “You’re looking
at a situation where social media and the ability to view social media
is extremely important in today’s world.”
Chelsea police Chief
Brian Kyes said the Senate adopted a modified “watered-down” version of
the bill that also doesn’t go far enough. It would only allow chiefs
access to social media accounts if there are outstanding complaints of
“That qualified language kills our ability to conduct
an adequate background check for someone who wants to become a police
officer,” Kyes told the Herald. “Police chiefs need to ensure people
coming into the police department have no red flags.”
Lenny Kesten, a lawyer and expert in employment litigation, called the proposal “terrible.”
is absurd,” Kesten said. “This information is information you want to
know before hiring an officer, a schoolteacher or soccer coach. ... And
the legislature wants employers to not look at it and wait until someone
is shot or molested?”
Sen. Creem declined to comment.
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