Rantz: WA Commission forcing cops to show private social media content or face termination
Aug 9, 2021, 8:53 PM | Updated: Sep 2, 2021, 7:45 pm
(Screenshot courtesy of King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht)
Update on 09-02-21 at 7:45pm: The CJTC has walked back it’s demand.
NEW: Commission walks back it’s demand to see private social media accounts of law enforcement.
Original report: WA Commission forcing cops to show private social media content or face termination https://t.co/g1apCBlZAG via @Mynorthwest pic.twitter.com/KFYmRzkHKh
— Jason Rantz on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) September 3, 2021
Officers were told they could lose certification if they don’t allow commissioners from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) to inspect their social media accounts personally.
At the end of a new online training session for police certification, officers must consent to a review of any of their social media accounts immediately upon request by a member or representative of the CJTC. It’s due by Oct. 31, and must be completed by all officers in the state. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht shared a screenshot with the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.
The language appears to come from a new law passed by Senate Democrats under the guise of police accountability. But cops were caught off guard by the request because they understood this new requirement — which they opposed — was for new hires.
Two large police unions are telling their members not to sign the declaration. At least one sheriff is demanding clarity. And officers statewide are raising significant concerns over a violation of their rights.
State wants access to private social media accounts
The requirement from the CJTC is unambiguous. You must allow your social media accounts to be reviewed.
The declaration from the training asks officers to “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.”
This implies, for example, if a commissioner asks to review an officer’s Twitter account, they could ask to review content that isn’t even public, such as your direct messages.
The intent of the new training was outlined in a CJTC email to law enforcement agencies, which the Jason Rantz Show obtained on KTTH. It reads in part:
When peace officers were mandated to be certified in 2001 and corrections by July 1, 2021, they were required to provide consent to their employee records if there was misconduct that could lead to revocation. In ES22B 5051, the consent now includes social media accounts.
The CJTC is effectively telling officers, regardless of their years in service, that they no longer have an expectation of privacy on social media accounts. It also sends a chilling message that will stifle an officer’s right to free speech.
But is this actually required by law, or are they misinterpreting it?
The new law appears to guide this change
This new requirement stems from SB 5051, part of the Democrats’ effort to dismantle and rebuild law enforcement agencies statewide.
The new law lays out conditions of certification to be a peace officer. It reads in part:
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 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.
Agencies believed this would only apply to recruits — not existing officers. Once an officer leaves the CJTC, they are normally subject to rules and regulations of their agency. But the bill is written somewhat vaguely, and the structure and placement in the bill make this condition seem open to interpretation as to whom it applies to.
There’s also a belief amongst law enforcement that this is intended only in cases of serious complaints being waged against an officer for conduct on social media. The law gives the CJTC considerable powers in cases of purported misconduct. But it could also only impact current officers who leave a department, to return at some point in the future.
The series of laws have been widely panned for how poorly written and thought out they appear. It’s caused so much chaos and concern that some high-ranking law enforcement officials believe this was by design; the intent was to confuse law enforcement.
CJTC Executive Director Monica Alexander responded to a request for comment early Tuesday morning. She said she believes the “law applies to all certified peace officers in WA State.” She said it would only apply to a certification or decertification matter.
Confusion and anger as two unions advise against signing declaration
Officers that reached out to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH expressed confusion and anger over this new declaration. They said they wouldn’t sign it. In fact, two local unions are taking the same position.
The King County Police Officers Guild was caught off guard. They emailed members saying they “were just made aware of this and are working to address this issue.”
“At this time, we are recommending that you DO NOT TAKE the WSCJTC Training until we can get more information to address these serious concerns,” the email reads. (Emphasis from the union email.)
The Seattle Police Officers Guild is recommending the same.
Meanwhile, the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs is reviewing the implications. Some members believe the CJTC is misinterpreting the new law.
Sheriffs weigh in and express concern
Sheriffs contacted by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH expressed deep concern and surprise by the CJTC language.
“We were surprised to see it,” Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney tells me.
He said he’s reached out for legal guidance on what this means. Like others, he was under the impression the requirement was only for recruits.
Fortney is far from the only sheriff concerned.
“I’m concerned about how quickly this came about without much notice from the CJTC and without explanation. The training, in my estimation, supplies just a snapshot of what people need to know before they sign their name to something,” King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht. “And so I’ll be working with my legal advisor to determine next steps and speak with the labor unions affected tomorrow [Tuesday].”
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett, a former board member on the CJTC, ripped the declaration.
“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,” Sheriff Burnett told me. “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.”
Like Fortney and Johanknecht, he is seeking clarification.
Updated at 7:51 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2021, to add comments from CJTC Executive Director.
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