(TNS) — Police officials in Middletown, Conn., have established a formal social media policy that explicitly details proper internet behavior expected from department personnel.

The procedure, a nine-page document, was put into effect Sept. 4.

The social media policy covers on-duty, and off-duty behavior of officers (when identified as members of the force).

“We have been implementing new policies as a part of our accreditation process for several years now. Our social media policy was in draft status in March 2019, yet, we expedited the implementation of the policy soon afterwards so there are clear expectations set forth for our personnel,” Police Chief William McKenna said by email Thursday.

“Social media provides a new and potentially valuable means of assisting the Department and its personnel in meeting community outreach, problem-solving, investigative, crime prevention, and related objectives,” the procedure says.

“The department endorses the secure use of social media to enhance communication, collaboration, and information exchange; streamline processes; and foster productivity,” the document continues.

It is not clear if the move has any connection with an internal affairs investigation announced March 26 by McKenna and Mayor Dan Drew into conduct by Sgt. Sebastian Bartolotta on his now-deleted personal Facebook page.

Between June 20 and Sept. 12, The Press made a number of requests by email and phone for a status of the probe into Bartolotta’s case.

McKenna said by email Thursday that the investigation has “not fully concluded,” offering no further comment.

The new policy delves into social media restrictions:

“Department employees are prohibited from posting, transmitting, and/or disseminating any photographs, video or audio recordings, likenesses or images of department logos, emblems, uniforms, badges, patches, marked or unmarked vehicles, equipment, or other material that specifically identifies the Department, or any personal or social networking website or web page, without express written permission of the Chief of Police or his/her designee,” according to the policy.

Definitions of terms used familiar to users of social media are defined, such as “blogosphere,” “chat,” “wall” and “tweet.”

Parameters and permissible conduct of those authorized to post to officially sanctioned police department Twitter and Facebook pages are also outlined.

In addition, the document addresses personal use of social media by its employees.

“Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites provided the speech as a private citizen cannot reasonably be interpreted to have the potential for disruption of the mission of the Middletown Police Department and/or the City of Middletown or interferes with maintaining a safe and secure work environment for employees,” it says.

Social media activity falls under the MPD code of conduct. As such, personnel engaging in the certain actions could be considered in violation:

  “Speech containing obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements or other forms of speech that ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race, any religion, or any protected class of individuals.

  Speech/photographs involving themselves or other Department personnel reflecting behavior that would reasonably be considered reckless, irresponsible, or illegal.”

McKenna ordered an investigation into whether Sgt. Bartolotta, husband of former mayoral candidate and Common Councilwoman Mary Bartolotta, broke department policy when he shared questionable images on his Facebook page in 2019 and prior. A joint statement with Drew on March 26 said the department would determine whether his actions constituted a violation of police standards of conduct or general orders.

The chief and mayor made clear in their press release that members of the police force are sensitive to the needs of all people.

“We want to reiterate that Sgt. Bartolotta’s posts are not indicative of how the men and women of the Middletown Police Department interact with the public,” the statement said.

The 25-year veteran of the force has said he apologized to those he offended.

©2019 The Middletown Press, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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