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Columns : Editorial

Do You Have a Personal Life?

Cops are being crucified for the things they do off the job while not identified as officers and that’s Un-American.

November 02, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Screenshot via KPRC.
Screenshot via KPRC.

When I was in high school, every month Playboy would run a pictorial titled "The Girls of…." There were issues that featured women of a certain college, or a pro team's cheerleaders, or the military, and I remember at least one that featured women of law enforcement. Invariably some of these women would be censured by their employers or the schools they attended for participating. I remember one of the Women of Law Enforcement was suspended or fired.

And rightfully so. For next to her nude picture was a picture of her on the job in uniform and her agency was identified in the caption. She clearly brought the wrong kind of attention to her employer. Which is something that cops shouldn't do.

But today, cops are being punished for activities that they participated in while off duty and while not identifying themselves as officers. So one has to ask the questions: What is an officer permitted to do off duty? Where are the red lines? And at what point do officers lose their First Amendment rights?

Let's look at three recent cases:

Candyance Davis was a nine-year veteran of the Memphis Police Department. Her hobby was rapping under the stage name Quolove, and she made a video portraying herself as a violent gangster in which she rapped her composition "Gimme Me." Her video is amateurish, her rapping is awful (you can barely understand a word), and OK, maybe throwing gang signs during the performance was ill conceived. But it is a performance and at no time does she identify herself as an officer. Regardless, she was fired. Maybe the Memphis PD has a case. Still, I have to ask would it fire an officer who acted in his spare time and portrayed a gangster on stage or in a film? What about an officer who rapped a violent song in one of Memphis' many clubs?

Stacey Suros serves with the Houston Police Department and apparently she wanted to make some money on the side as a model for erotic photography. So she posted some 100 photos of herself in various poses on a site called ModelMayhem.com, offering up her services to photographers. The images were posted under the name "Tessoro;" no mention was made of her real name or her affiliation with the HPD. But someone recognized the 42-year-old single mother's pictures, the cat was out of the bag, and the HPD brass were not amused. Suro was suspended and she is being investigated by internal affairs to determine if she should be fired for violating HPD policy. That policy says: "Employees shall exhibit professional conduct at all times and shall not engage in any activity, including unlawful activity, that would degrade or bring disrespect upon the employee or the department." Not to get all Supreme Court about this, but who gets to determine what is "degrading" or "disrespectful?" That's a pretty subjective standard.

Gared Hansen is a veteran San Francisco officer. He was suspended in 2009 and again in 2010 for taking photos of naked women. He is suing the department on the grounds that he did the photography on his own time and "with absolutely no connection to his employment." The most bizarre aspect of this case is that it is happening in San Francisco, home of the infamous fetish and S&M lifestyle celebration known as the Folsom Street Fair. It's San Francisco, not some city deep in the Bible Belt; almost anything goes in San Francisco, and much of that anything is condoned or at the very least tolerated by the police department. Are you telling me that there's not a single San Francisco cop participating in the local debauchery? Would the department have punished Hansen if he was painting nude women? Would the San Francisco PD have dared to punish Hansen if his models were nude men?

I guess the argument by these departments is that their officers lose their personal lives when they pin on their badges. Like the Marines say, "If the Corps wanted you to have a personal life, it would have issued you one." But what the Marines who say that and what these agencies seem to have forgotten is that you have been issued one. It was issued to you on December 15, 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified. And as long as you don't bring your agency and your position into your activities and you don't violate the law, you don't surrender your personal lives when you take your oaths.

Tags: First Amendment, Free Speech, Off-Duty Life, Houston PD, Memphis PD, San Francisco PD


Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

Lori M Connelly @ 11/6/2012 7:16 AM

This issue walks a fine line. It follows the same thinking that a woman has asked to be raped because of the clothes she was wearing or the location she was in. While a woman doesn't deserve to be raped because of the clothes she wears, common sense needs to be a personal responsibility. Using the common sense yard stick, posing for compromising photos, throwing down gang signs while rapping, or taking nude photos of other people on your own time doesn't seem to measure up.
If it isn't something you would place on a job application while applying for a job (such as police officer) it isn't something you might want to have in your life off of the job. Rules like this apply in the corporate world as well.
Most departments have policies requiring officers to get permission before engaging in off duty work. If an officer was hired to play a gangster on film, most likely permission would have to have been granted by the department ahead of time. The next question then is," If the activity is being done for free, does this allow the officer to be able to participate without interference from the department?"
There is a difference between employment, requirements of employment and freedom of speech.

Jim A @ 11/6/2012 7:19 PM

These are excellent examples of departments violating their employee's free speech. Period. There is no connection to the department. It is not illegal to rap (even though that kind of music is a crime in my opinion!) It is not illegal to take pictures of nude women - or Playboy photographers would be in jail and not famous. It is not illegal to place nude pictures of yourself on a model website. It may be stupid, but as we all know, stupidity is not a crime.

I am not saying I want to work with these idiots. I am only saying that if I did, the Department should have nothing to say about it if the actions do not bring about public outcry - at the hands of the department employee. If someone recognizes them, it is not a violation of law or a morality clause.

Bob @ VA @ 11/7/2012 4:54 AM

Is LE a job or a profession? If it is a job like flipping burgers at McD's, then their off-duty conduct should not be an issue. If a profession, then the standards of conduct follow wherever you go and whatever you do. You cannot have it both ways, and as these incidents indicate, anonymity is a myth. If LE is a profession as I believe it is, then act professionally at all times. If you wouldn't do something in front of your LT or grandmother, then don't do it. Or alternately, turn in your badge and car, take off the uniform, and do whatever you please. Be a professional or be a civilian.

S.S @ 11/7/2012 7:36 AM

These examples are all police officers. At the end of their tour of duty they go to their other jobs. Whatever the reason is they're not posing in police uniforms or bringing shame to their departments. They may be doing it just to make ends meet. Or it maybe just a hobby, and they could be getting paid for that hobby. What ever the reason is it's their choice, and as long as they're not bringing shame to the dept. So therefore I think the dept. should just butt out. For me personally I've been a police officer for coming up on 18 years. For me its more a lifestyle than anything. Especially if you have a family and kids. When you go out as a family you want to make sure that all of them are safe and that's your first priority is to protect them. That badge is on me all the time whether I like it or not. It's part of me and who I am.

Rodney @ 11/7/2012 7:38 AM

Once upon a time, long, long ago--there existed a document titled the Law Enforcement Officer Code of Ethics, and it was issued to academy recruits. You could think of it as a collection of guidelines for officers, little hints as to the higher standards WE CHOOSE to hold true when WE join this profession. Look it up.

Jason @ 11/7/2012 7:58 AM

When we sign on we all understand that we are held to a higher standard. Sometimes that higher standard comes in the form of policies. Policies we agree to abide by, if we want to be police officers. None of us have a right to be a police officer. We all have a right to free speech. Sometimes, if you want to exercise those rights, you have to make a choice. What will you give up?

Like it or not, our personal lives can reflect (good and/or bad) on our professional lives and our departments. The department gets to set policy, and the department gets to decide what is “degrading” and “disrespectful.”

If we don’t want to abide by department rules and regulations, then we’ll have to find another job. It’s that simple.

Be proud to be held to a higher standard. It means something.

John @ 11/7/2012 1:34 PM

I care about on-duty activities, like extended interrogations without breaks, unnecessary use of force against compliant individuals and lack of supervision/accountability/internal investigations. I could care less about legal off duty activities, such as those above.

The majority of people in this country just elected a dishonest, possibly foreign born, illegal immigrant loving, pro abortion, pro gay rights, anti gun socialist as president. The same type of people are in control of the U.S. Senate. This country has become a shithole devoid of any morals or traditional values. Therefore, why should any off duty l.e.o. (without agency identifiers) be held accountable for any legal activities?

Brian @ 11/7/2012 6:01 PM

@John: I like your thinking.

michael @ 11/7/2012 11:03 PM

I agree with you Rodney, we take on this job as our profession by choice and there is an expectation of behavior based on that. We know what we are doing, whats right from wrong or what is acceptable or not. Period.

HighwayRanger @ 11/12/2012 2:04 PM

This is the old "slippery slope" problem. If we, as LE members, agree (And I do not) that ANYTHING we do off-duty could be used against us at work, then we need to do some soul searching here. Who gets to decide what is "moral" and "right"? The phrase "moral turpitude" is thrown around a lot....I have yet to have any LE exec or attorney define that for me. So take the officer who is having an affair (Yeah I know I am reaching here!) To me that is morally wrong, so if I am the Chief, I should be able to fire them according to this idea of "professionalism". Right? Has nothing to do with the job, but what the hell I think it is wrong and reflects poorly on the LE profession. Do we let our people put signs endorsing candidates in their lawn at election time? Can't have that! It might reflect poorly on LE.

How about the person who recognized the Houston cop? I am guessing they are in the LE family, probably on HPD. If she gets suspended for having the pictures taken, shouldn't they get disciplined for viewing them?

I find it strange that it appears that ONLY law enforcement is held to this standard of professionalism. If a doctor is walking down the street and sees someone who is hit by a car and needs medical aid and they do not do anything (citing legal issues and potentially being sued) they don't lose their license. If I walk into a doctor's office and need some life-saving operation and I don't have the money or insurance, I will be told to hit the bricks. While some people might look down on this doctor, they would not lose their license. Are they not a profession? Do they not take an oath? Why don't they lose their license?? Because it is a business. Calling it a profession does not make it one.

Perhaps the bigger question here is "do professions still exist in today's world"? We are not back in college and Socrates is not lecturing to us. Last I checked, Diogenes is still searching for the ethical man.

Just one man's thoughts.

Cop4Liberty @ 11/14/2012 1:53 AM

Provided that we aren't responsible for an illegal activity, what we do on our personal time is none of the police organizations damn business...period. Also, saying there's a difference between a "profession" and a "job" merely boils down to semantics. At the end of the day, the profession of law enforcement is still just a job. And, a job does not define who a person is. While engaged in a job any employer may tell a person what they can or cannot say, where they can or cannot go and what they can or cannot do. But, when the employee is not working, whether after punching a clock or taking off a badge, we're all citizens of the USA and shouldn't have to give up our freedoms because of somebody else's opinions. Furthermore, the worst part is that only half of the attempts to stain the badge come from bitter and/or vengeful SOB's who are trying to "get back" at the cops. The other half of the time its the self-righteous, hypocritcal, blue-blooded, co-workers that are either covering their own backsides, while hoping that the administration and/or public doesn't find the skeletons in their closets first. We can talk as much "We're cops, their not" attitude as we want, but our blue-on-blue backstabbing is a bigger source of stress and is far more damaging to our careers and livlihood than what public scrutiny or criminals are.

J @ 11/14/2012 2:14 AM

"Higher standard" my blue backside! I became a LEO because I'm passionate about SERVING and PROTECTING. I'm skilled and willing to run into a sh*t-storm when other citizens are running away. I have a unique ability (like many other LEO's) to keep my wits about me and remain calm and cool when hell's knocking at the door. I'm intelligent enough to think as sick and crafty as the most twisted criminal. Yet, I dedicate such thinking to protecting society. I have the desire and ability to be a giant among men, yet I humble myself to serve society. And finally, I'm ready and willing to fight more intensely than the most aggressive gangbanger there is. Yet, I'm able to exercise restraint, remain focused, and use this double-edged sword only when necessary for preservation of self or others. Yet...I'm supposed to stuff all this inside and go find another profession because I don't let somebody else's opinion dictate what I do off-duty. I'll do exactly what these LEO's did, and what most LEO's do (despite what some of them may portray). I'll continue to exercise my freedom to live how I want outside of work, until my life or my career is taken from me.

Forrest lee wykle @ 12/14/2012 12:05 PM

Ya

howitworksintherealworld @ 2/14/2013 1:50 PM

I'm late to this debate, but let me tell all of you the solution to the problem of erotic expression online. Do not show your face, or any identifiers. Identifiers include not only agency affiliation, but anything that could identify you. Nobody will stumble upon these images or video and identify you. Anyone you send them to will have a more difficult time pinning these anonymous images to you. It gives your superiors ample room to ignore them and move on.

Now you can have your cake and eat it too.

robert @ 8/7/2013 2:26 PM

There is definitely a fine line here as to what is immoral. The best answer I can think of is that we took an oath and agreed to live a lifestyle above reproach on and off-duty.

I have no problem with the nudity whatsoever but what if that HPD officer works on a case involving pornography or the like and these photos end up in the hands of a defense attorney and he/she uses them in a way to discredit her.

As for the wannabe rap star, I could see her in court and an attorney discrediting her for her promotion of a violent lifestyle when she has arrested a gangmember for battery or the like. If she wants to rap than she should do christian rap or some kind of rap with another form of a positive message. Then she could hone her skills and then after a while the pd would probably condone it and let her use it in a job related fashion.

I am casting any moral judgments here; I am just saying we all signed up for this lifestyle on our own. I could not care less what these people do behind their own closed doors but when they post themselves in a public forum their actions reflect upon all of us.

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