Chief Mark Garrett of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has been placed under investigation for posting a disparaging meme of Caitlyn Jenner on his personal Facebook page, which mocked the former athlete for presenting himself as a woman.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the investigation into Garrett’s Facebook post began when an L.A. Times reporter revealed it to CHP officials.
“The entry, which Garrett posted in April 2017, shows a photo of Jenner that is overlaid with a transphobic and vulgar message,” reports the outlet. “In bold type on Jenner’s image, it reads, ‘Anyone who says I’m not a lady can,” and then suggests the reader perform a sex act.”
Officer Garrett said he did not remember if he had shared the post or not, though he acknowledged knowing the woman who shared the original post. Several of his friends posted comments underneath that allegedly demeaned transgender people, according to the Times report. He added that the post does not reflect how he feels or the department’s values.
“I have no recollection of it,” he said. “I am on Facebook very rarely … If I shared it, I shared. That was a personal Facebook page, and it has nothing to do with the CHP.”
Now the California Highway Patrol has launched a full-blown investigation into Garrett’s private Facebook page while denouncing it as being incongruent with CHP’s inclusive values.
“While the post in question appeared on a personal Facebook page, which CHP policy does not specifically address, the post is not consistent with the department’s organizational values,” CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said. “The CHP is an organization of inclusiveness, and any posts made on an employee’s personal social media page do not reflect the diversity, views and background of the more than 11,000 men and women of the California Highway Patrol who work for this department.”
The CHP has no specific policies in place on what employees can or cannot post on their social media pages, though police departments across the United States have quickly implemented strict guidelines for officers’ social media conduct. The Los Angeles Times provided more details:
The New York Police Department disciplined 17 officers in 2012 over offensive comments about a West Indian American Day parade.
A court of appeal last year, in upholding a five-day suspension for a Los Angeles police officer for a remark he wrote on Facebook, said the LAPD had the right to discipline him for his online conduct.
In recent years, agencies have struggled with officers’ use of social media. In North Charleston, S.C., a police officer was fired for posting a photo of himself wearing Confederate flag underwear. The post was discovered in the wake of the killing of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist. The officer sued over his termination and was awarded a settlement.
A Philadelphia attorney has launched an extensive examination of the private social media accounts of nearly 3,000 law enforcement officers from eight departments nationwide. The resulting database is intended to show how hundreds of racist or bigoted comments and images from officers’ posts undermine the public trust, the project’s website says.
Transgender activists have reacted negatively to news of Garrett’s post. Jessie Callahan, founder of the TCops International — Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs – told the Times that his while his post is both “offensive and vulgar” it is most troubling that it came from a CHP leader.
“It is of concern because he has transgender officers in his area,” Callahan told the outlet.
Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County deputy and legal advisor, said he is surprised the CHP doesn’t have a personal social media policy in place, because it is probably the hottest issue in internal affairs.
“That is the best practices standard in the industry to have a clear social media policy for officers’ personal usage,” he said. Obayashi said that given the role of social media, officers need to understand what they should not post.
Obayashi said comments of discriminatory nature undermine the very job officers do. “Regardless of officers having 1st Amendment rights, whether on or off duty, 1st Amendment considerations have to be balanced against the legitimate department need to be impartial.”