With more and more Garden State residents using Facebook and Twitter, including criminals and the mentally unstable, a growing number of New Jersey police departments are teaching their officers the ins and outs of social media, so they know what's permissible and what could cause a problem


County College of Morris criminologist Nick Irons, a former police Sgt. with the Sparta police department, says it used to be that you'd write a letter to a newspaper if you wanted to make a proclamation or a threat, but now, with social media, the entire world can see the message instantaneously.

"This means a completely new reality for law enforcement officials," says the professor. "We're facing budget constraints as you well know in police agencies, but now because of this, we're going to be faced with the fact that we're going to have to train these police officers - just like we did years ago when computers came in- we have to train them in the process, the technology, and what to look for."

He says depending on the post, a Facebook or Twitter account may have to be shut down.

"For the same reason that you have somebody out there who is screaming fire in a theatre - they're causing problems and you want to be able to eliminate that - because of the regular fear that comes out…police officers would prefer to not have to worry about this and just to move on with their job, but they're faced with this crisis now because it's an increasing problem."

Irons adds, "We have to be aware of not trampling on anybody's rights, so in some cases where an individual is using social media to get out a message. I think I would defer that responsibility to the County prosecutor's office or the state Attorney General - I think it's just too much responsibility to make that decision and cut people off from their right to speak."

He also says, "I'm not very familiar with social media - Facebook - it's one those things I have chosen not to participate in, although I do go out once in a while to look around - I really don't want participate in it, and I think there are many police agencies that choose or recommend to do it either- because everybody is watching what they're doing…When you're out on Facebook, and everybody's watching what's happening, you can really jam yourself up."