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WA police ordered to consent to turning over private social media or face termination

Social media apps. (MaxPixel.net/Released)
August 13, 2021

The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) issued a declaration alerting law enforcement officers that they must consent to a review of their private social media accounts – including direct messages – or they could face termination.

According to KTTH, the end of a new online training session to become certified as a policeman includes consent to review social media accounts immediately if a member or representative of the CJTC requests it.

The consent is due by the end of October and is a requirement for every officer in the state.

A screenshot of the declaration, given to KTTH by King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, reads in part, “I hereby authorize, and consent to, the release of my personnel files, including disciplinary, termination, civil or criminal investigation or other records or information that are directly related to any certification or decertification matter before the Commission.”

“I further consent to, and agree to facilitate, a review of any of my social media accounts immediately upon a request by a representative of the Commission. I understand that failure to facilitate such a review when requested may result in a decertification action,” the declaration continued.

Multiple police unions, including the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the King County Police Officers Guild, have told officers not to complete the training or sign the declaration until they clarify if the order is legal. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs is also looking into the matter.

“It’s an extreme overreach. For the state to say they have the right to go into a personal social media account? It’s such an overreach,” Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett told KTTH. “Everything is taking away local control in this legislation. They’re not allowing you to police and train your staff. It’s all about the state taking over this drastic control, and through that, you have this overreach in this new wording in the legislation.”

The order appears to stem from a new law aimed at oversight and accountability of law enforcement, SB5051, which includes new conditions for police certification.

“The peace officer or corrections officer must also consent to and facilitate a review of the officer’s social media accounts, however, consistent with RCW 49.44.200, the officer is not required to provide login information,” the bill states. “The release of information may not be delayed, limited, or precluded by any agreement or contract between the officer, or the officer’s union, and the entity responsible for the records or information.”