WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - On Tuesday, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told FOX 5 he can see departments enhancing social media policies and plans to look at his department’s system of background checks as a result of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
Chief Jones discussed this in an interview with FOX 5 on extremism and where the department draws the line on expressing extremist views and officers’ First Amendment rights (on or off-duty).
"Unlawful things they might do such as storming the Capitol, that changes the whole complexity of that particular situation, but when you’re talking about simply that they’re attending a political rally, they have every right to do that -- regardless of what their political affiliation is. The point that I think really needs to be clarified is whether or not they really do belong to some extremist group," said Jones.
Discussing social media and background checks, the Chief told FOX 5, "I’ll be making sure we are looking at making sure that we are going far enough in our background checks to make sure we are not missing what we should not be missing because this is something that concerns me – that I wouldn’t want any person of these extremist views first of all hired by our department but second of all these persons would be radicalized in the midst of what’s going on in our country’s history, on either side."
Jones did say the Montgomery County Police already do background checks for new officers. He also spoke about how it is harder to find this information when someone is already on the force.
NPR reports nearly 30 sworn officers from across the country have been identified as having been involved in events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Most of the great D.C. area police departments told FOX 5 they do not have any members that were found to be involved.
Police departments have mechanisms to report member activity some may view to be supportive of more extremist views.
As an example of how seriously area departments are taking this: six days after the Capitol riots, Prince George’s County’s acting police chief announced an officer’s suspension for social media posts that violate policy.
A statement sent to FOX reads:
"The Prince George’s Police Department understands that officers have the right to speak as private citizens on matters of public concern. However, that right is limited to speech and social media posts that may impact: the department’s ability to carry out its mission and goals, undermine the integrity of the Department or a member of the Department, impair the public trust of the Department, impair the performance of employees’ duties and/or undermine morale within the Department.
As for the officer that has been suspended due to a social media post showing the officer wearing a political t-shirt while displaying his badge and duty weapon, the investigation into this matter continues. The trust of the community is of great importance to the Department and we encourage all officers to keep that in mind before saying or posting anything publicly."
(Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Angelo Consoli, president of the Prince George’s County FOP Lodge 89, told FOX 5, "The key thing to weigh yourself on is anything that’s going to embarrass the agency or the county, based on your actions on what you’re attending, that’s where you start getting into trouble because you know we’re here to protect the community, to look after the community,"
Consoli, considering measures already in place, told FOX 5 he does not anticipate any changes to their county’s policies in response to Jan. 6.
When asked whether members should have the same First Amendment rights as regular citizens, Consoli answered, "There are certain times when no, you cannot have the same rights as everyone else, and that is when it’s going to bring shame to the department, bring shame to yourself, because of what we’re entrusted to do."
Consoli went on to say, that’s the decision you make when you choose to be a police officer. He also said the situation in Prince George’s County (and any others like it) should be both fully and fairly investigated.
Consoli pointed to that same case as an example of how officers should also really look into who they are engaging with to make sure that group or person doesn’t hurt you further down the line.
This is all part of a discussion Chief Jones said he plans to have with the new Montgomery County Police recruits when he meets with them next week.