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Seattle police chief says crackdown on cops’ social media posts needed

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Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole has now placed a second officer on paid leave over racially charged social media posts she says have been “called into question.”

“I think it was the totality of the circumstances and beyond the heels of other similar cases that we felt it was really important to not only investigate this big case but also the development of the new policy,” O’Toole told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz Show.

O’Toole wouldn’t name the officer, but The Stranger has identified him as Officer Sam Byrd, who reported he posted controversial and inflammatory tweets about homosexuals, race, President Obama and other subjects.

Related: SPD officer pulled from patrol after arrest of golf club-carrying elderly man

“I received a lot of feedback about this officer’s tweets and other social media posts,” O’Toole said in explaining why she took action against the officer.

The move follows last week’s removal from duty of Officer Cynthia Whitlatch. The white officer was placed on leave after it was discovered she had posted a number of racially fueled comments on Facebook regarding the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of an unarmed black teen. The posts came just months after she arrested a 69-year-old black man for walking with a golf club on Capitol Hill in what’s become a highly embarrassing incident for the department.

“We’re all entitled to our opinions. I’m sure that we have a wide spectrum of political opinions in this organization, but the minute we put that uniform on and come to work we have to put our political agendas behind,” said O’Toole.

The matter has been referred to the department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which conducts internal investigations, said O’Toole.

The department has been working on a social media policy since last August, according to O’Toole, and has sent a draft to the team of federal monitors and the Department of Justice overseeing court-ordered reforms targeting excessive force and biased policing.

“This is all about the organization. This organization is working really hard and there’s so many great police officers in this organization who are trying to get beyond the difficult times of the last few years,” she said.

The department is working closely with the city attorney’s office to protect the rights of officers while balancing the need to preserve professionalism, said O’Toole.

“We all have to be very mindful of what we post these days. I am myself. I’m very conscious of what I post on social media. There are no secrets anymore so I think we really need to apply common sense.”

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