We hold people in some occupations to higher standards.
Elected officials, for one. Doctors, too.
And police officers.
These individuals hold immense power over the rest of us. We expect them to abide by strict ethics and to use discretion in their professional and personal lives.
That's why the Internet musings of Portsmouth police Officer Stephen D. Rankin are so troubling - and so damaging to the department. The "D" stood for "Danger" on his Facebook page, which apparently has been shut down.
Rankin is the 3-1/2-year veteran who fatally shot a drunken, unarmed man last month in Olde Towne. Rankin had gone to the scene after police got a 911 call about someone trying to break into an apartment building. He fired after Kirill Denyakin put his hands around his waistband and reportedly charged at the officer.
Denyakin's autopsy shows that he was shot 11 times and that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.28.
The Portsmouth Police Department took the rare step of asking an outside agency - the Virginia State Police - to lead the investigation.
No one should jump to conclusions. Rankin had split seconds to decide whether to fire or to expose himself to greater danger. It's not an easy call.
His Facebook postings, however, call into question his judgment; his racial sensitivity; and whether he was someone too eager to pull the trigger.
One post includes an image of a man being lynched with the words, "Love is... Doing whatever is necessary." Because of the horrible history of lynchings in this country, which primarily targeted blacks and occurred mainly in the South, the scene is shocking.
In another image, a post shows the song title: "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?"
Such images on other Facebook pages could be shrugged off. Rankin's can't. After he shot someone, it was inevitable those posts would be scrutinized.
The department has a four-page general order, effective April 2010, on social networking. It includes statements that employees "use appropriate discretion so as not to discredit the Department or themselves" and that "Employees are prohibited from posting content that is inconsistent with your duties and obligations as a Portsmouth Police officer. For example, racist or sexist comments... "
Many of Rankin's images were posted before the directive; still, people could see them after that time.
A department spokesman told me Tuesday that discipline for violating the general order could include a warning, all the way up to termination. Hargis has acknowledged an internal investigation on whether Rankin violated policy.
Rankin's attorney, Ali Sprinkle, said Tuesday that she was unaware of any investigation because of the Facebook posts. She declined to comment about their relevance to the shooting.
Even if he's cleared in the shooting, Rankin can't remain on the force.
What would happen if he pulls someone over and an "incident" erupts? The city would expose itself to greater legal liability.
It wasn't smart for Rankin to make those comments online.
It would be even dumber for the department to keep him.
Roger Chesley, (757) 446-2329, email@example.com, pilotonline.com/chesley