- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

PETERSBURG, Va. (AP) - A federal appeals court says a Virginia police department’s policy barring its employees from criticizing the department on social media is unconstitutional.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the Petersburg Police Department’s social media policy is a “virtual blanket prohibition” on all speech critical of the department and “unconstitutionally overbroad.”

The lawsuit was filed after two officers were placed on probation for discussing on Facebook their concerns about inexperienced officers being promoted and leading the department’s training programs.

The department’s policy prohibited employees from posting anything that would “tend to discredit or reflect unfavorably” upon the agency.

The 4th Circuit said police cannot be allowed to “wall themselves off from public scrutiny and debate.”

An attorney for Petersburg didn’t immediately return a phone message Thursday.

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