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Rochester police to pursue social media policy


After one Rochester Police Department officer was suspended and another police department staff member resigned following allegations of inappropriate social media use, a police oversight body has now recommended the department draft a specific policy for police employees' social media use.

The Rochester Police Policy Oversight Commission in March formed a subcommittee from its members to discuss the department's lack of a specific social media policy. An investigation beginning in February of a police officer and a subsequent investigation of the department's professional standards manager weighed the actions of the two employees against the department's code of conduct.

The subcommittee, led by oversight commission member Don Barlow, on Monday returned a recommendation to the group: that the police department draft a social media policy and have a draft or policy update ready for the commission's review within 60 days.

The policy was to address official social media communications made by the department and also the personal social media use of department employees, Barlow said.

The city of Rochester and its administration had expressed interest in developing an organization-wide social media policy with the input of the oversight commission, said Police Chief Roger Peterson. If that were to happen, the police department might not want to duplicate the city's work.


"I would not preclude that we could adopt a separate (policy) for the police department, but that would not be my first alternative," Peterson said. "I would think we would want to do it in conjunction with the rest of the city organization — if the city council chose to pursue that."

The commission voted unanimously in favor of the subcommittee's recommendation at its regular meeting Monday evening. Peterson would follow up with city administration as to whether a citywide social media policy was in the works, he said.

In a later report to the commission, Peterson asked for the commission's and the public's help in reviewing the professional standards manager position. The department would be open to re-evaluating the position's duties and responsibilities, the skills and abilities required for the job and the desired minimum experience and qualifications for candidates.

"I think there is considerable discussion for us to have — the commission — in terms of how we fill that professional standards manager position," Peterson said. "I think it's an important community voice."

Commission members, including Barlow and Abdi Roble, had a list of questions for Peterson after the police chief updated the commission on the conclusion of an investigation involving Officer Ben Schlag, who was sanctioned for inappropriate social media posts. Many of the details have been protected by data privacy practices because they involve personnel matters, Peterson said.

Some people in the community were frustrated by the length of the investigation and the sanctions against Schlag, Roble said. Schlag was handed a 10-day suspension without pay and requirements to "attend classes and complete assignments relating to cultural dynamics and their impact on his work and his relationships with the community," Peterson had said earlier.

Peterson reported Monday that Schlag had enrolled in one-on-one classes with Sepler and Associates , a Minneapolis consulting firm that specializes in harassment prevention and workplace investigations, according to the firm's website. Schlag will attend classes over an eight-week period, at his own expense and on his own time, Peterson said.

The investigation into former professional standards manager Scott Hildebrand had not yet been completed, a city Human Resources Department representative told the Post-Bulletin on June 3.

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