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A chief’s do as I say, not as I do, social media policy

Below is an image from the personal Facebook page of Terre Haute (IN) Police Department Chief John Plasse. The cover photo on the page is a graphic supporting the reelection of Chief Plasse’s boss, Mayor Duke Bennett.

The chief also has many posts making it clear Duke Bennett is his man. While it doesn’t say in Plasse’s profile that he’s the police chief, you can figure that out from a number of his posts (including a video of the chief, in uniform, dancing in a charity benefit competition).

Chief Plasse is not the only member of the department supporting Bennett. In fact, Bennett’s re-election is also backed by the union representing Terre Haute’s police officers. But not every officer will will be voting for the incumbent.

IN Terre Haute police SM policy

Lt. Gary Shook is one of those who says he will cast his vote for Bennett’s opponent, Mark Bird. Lt. Shook explained why he was supporting Mark Bird in a post on Shook’s personal Facebook page. Guess who asked Lt. Shook to take down the post? Guess who suspended Lt. Shook without pay for two days?

It’s reported Chief Plasse described Lt. Shook’s post as inaccurate when he asked that it be removed. Shook complied, but what Shook wrote can still be found on the Mark Bird for Mayor Facebook page (see below).

Below is a Facebook post from veteran officer (Lt Gary Shook) of the Terre Haute Police Department. I knew I had…

Posted by Mark Bird for Mayor on Sunday, October 18, 2015


I keep re-reading the article published yesterday (Saturday) by Lisa Trigg in the Tribune-Star. I’m trying to figure out what I’m missing in my search for any real justification for Chief Plasse’s actions. Besides the claim of inaccuracy by a clearly partisan chief, this was all I could find:

Prior to Shook’s posting, THPD adopted a “Use of Electronic Social Media” policy that cautions personnel against disclosing online the nature of their employment, for safety and security reasons. However, several THPD employees do reference their employment on their Facebook pages, including posting police and department-related photos and logos.

(Shook’s attorney Joe) Etling believes that Shook’s posting about the mayoral race is no different than any other police officer supporting a candidate on their personal Facebook pages. In fact, several police officers, including Chief Plasse, have posted photos and statements supporting Mayor Bennett for re-election.

Read entire article

What I get from the article is it’s okay for the chief (and other officers supporting Mayor Bennett) to post about their choice for mayor. But if you support the mayor’s opponent there is a different set of rules.

That’s a really interesting policy and I look forward to seeing how that holds up in front of the police merit board (scheduled for a November 18 hearing) and possibly in a court of law.

IN Terre Haute police chief 2
Official photo of Terre Haute (IN) Police Department Chief John Plasse

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