The Denison Police Department is among several police departments across the country that were identified in a study about officers that have shared possible hate speech on social media. The Plain View Project recently released its findings on a number of police departments nationwide and the report names at least four employees of the Denison department who may have shared possibly inappropriate comments on social media.
The Associated Press first published the findings of the report, which named the four Denison officers as Casey Hunt, Alexis Sublett, Tom Unerfusser and Colby Hogenson.
Denison Police officials declined to speak with the Herald Democrat and referred all questions on the matter to the city.
Denison City Manager Jud Rex said Tuesday the city is reviewing the posts to determine what actions, if any, should be taken. He also said Denison will evaluate the posts in the context of the city’s social media policy, employee handbook and other relevant policies and rules. On Friday, Rex said the city expects to release the findings of its investigation by the middle of the week.
The cities that were investigated by The Plain View Project were Dallas and Denison in Texas; Philadelphia; St. Louis; Phoenix; York, Pennsylvania; Lake County, Florida; and Twin Falls, Idaho.
An email from Plain View Project Executive Director Emily Baker-White said Denison was selected for the study because the city was already having a conversation about police-community relations. She said Denison came to be on the project’s radar as a result of a controversial police recruitment video that gained nationwide attention several years ago.
She sent the Herald Democrat a link to a 2014 video that could not be found on any DPD social media sites.
Baker-White said the question the project asked when highlighting social media posts was whether or not it would in some way affect the public trust in policing.
While Rex said Denison does not condone racism or hate speech, the city’s social media policies make no reference to either of those topics outside of noting that “city administered social media accounts will not share content that promotes, fosters or perpetuates discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, age, religion, gender, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.”
Rex further referenced the city’s social media policies that pertain to police officers which bar an employee of the police department from posting any content that would identify them as an employee of the department as well as forbidding the sharing of information related to the proceedings of the department.
“The city holds its employees to the highest standards of conduct and does not condone racism or hate of any kind, on or off the job,” Rex said via email. “Discipline of any kind, if needed, will be administered consistent with the city policy and applicable law.”
He confirmed there were four city officers currently employed with posts in the report and since it is a personnel matter the city’s policy is not to discuss those issues.
“The city holds all employees to the highest standards and will use those standards to review the matter,” Rex said.
The city manager also said the findings are not indicative of a culture of violence within the Denison department and in an emailed statement he added the city is proud of its diverse and growing community.
“We view our employees as not only exceptional public servants but also as ambassadors to the community,” Rex said. “As a city, we work to model servant-leadership at every level through our hiring practices, training programs, core values and daily performance expectations for performance. The city of Denison does not condone racism or violence of any kind, on or off the job.”
Rex added that all city employees receive training on diversity and inclusion. He said the police and fire departments are required to complete a comprehensive battery of exams including confidential physical and psychological assessments before the city will extend an offer of employment.
“Regulation of employee speech is a dynamic area for public employers like the city of Denison,” Rex said. “We are continually reviewing our process. In compliance with the recent United States Supreme Court case, Packingham v. North Carolina, all City of Denison public employees are entitled to access and maintain personal social media profiles.”
Packingham v. North Carolina was a case involving a North Carolina law that barred sex offenders access to any website defined as a social media site. The court ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it too broadly defined social media and limited even basic functions of modern daily life, such as searching for a job, by blocking access to social media sites. The court ruled it was taking a very narrow stance on the matter stating in the ruling, “This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet. As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.”