Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Social Networks are Great…but for Catching Criminals??

So our local police department has started a Facebook page, and they have thousands of followers in only a few weeks.  Quite impressive for a smaller city in central Pennsylvania, but then again, one of the best forms of entertainment in this area is reading crime reports and watching the news to see if you know anyone who was busted.  Very sad, but true.

At first I thought this was a great idea, but now I’m not quite so sure.  Their first few posts seemed as if they were meant to help solve crimes, posting pictures of wanted individuals, stolen vehicles, etc.  And I think that’s great.  I’ve always thought that the public and especially social media could be an invaluable tool for helping to rid our streets of crime.  And sure enough, when a minivan was stolen and security camera pictures of the suspects were posted to Facebook, arrests were made shortly thereafter.  Great job to all!

But then yesterday they posted around 40 pictures of individuals rounded up in a drug bust.  Some of them were captured, but a few of them were still out on the streets, and the police department was asking the public for help in finding them.  Many of them had previous arrests for drugs, violence, etc., including a few well-known (notorious) individuals.

This morning as I was checking my Facebook news feed, I noticed numerous people had commented on some of the drug bust pictures.  As I began scrolling down through the comments, I instantly recognized a problem.  Many people were enthusiastic about these people being off the streets, but some were lashing out at the police department for posting the pictures.  The PD actually responded to the comments by saying that posting them on Facebook is no different than being featured on the television news or in newspapers, and I can understand their point.  However, one of my Facebook friends questioned what they’d do if one or some of these people were acquitted of the charges.  Would they post THAT on their Facebook page?  Probably not.

It seems they are walking a fine line here with regards to their posts.  I support them 100% in putting up requests for leads on crimes and missing persons cases, but posting pictures of arrested individuals blurs the picture.  Some of these people complained that the kids of the arrested individuals would see the pictures and the comments posted below, and that the negative comments under the pictures would cause harm to a children’s psyche.  In response to that, I want to say that it was their parent who broke the law and ended up with his/her picture there, and that it’s not the PD’s fault for bad parenting, but what happens in the event that someone is wrongly accused?

I personally know quite a few people that have had run-ins with the law.  Hearing their side of their crimes gives a person a completely different perspective of the judicial system.  A crime story always has two sides, and most often the police and courts are in the right, but I’ve had to seriously question some of the charges and decisions made by the authorities.  In one instance, a person out on work-release was being followed by a vengeful cop, and something so harmless as stopping at a fast food drive-thru for lunch on his/her way to pick up supplies for his/her job was reported to prosecutors who demanded his/her work-release be revoked.  The warden was fine with the lunch—even said others did it all the time—but the cop and his buddy prosecutors pushed hard on the judge, and he/she ended up having to serve the final few weeks of his/her sentence behind bars.  All because a cop didn’t like him/her.

And the very same local police department with the Facebook page has had numerous issues with its own officers.  Just a few years ago, two off-duty officers attacked a man in a restaurant bathroom.  A patron was also in the bathroom at the time, and upon trying to break up the fight, the two officers attacked him as well.  Both men received substantial injuries as a result.  Both officers were visibly intoxicated and have since been dismissed from the force.  I don’t know the full story, but I don’t think either officer was arrested at the time (signs of a cover-up were identified later), and the PD spent an inordinate amount of time investigating before ultimately dismissing the officers.

I’m not surprised by the protect-your-own mentality.  I think that’s common anywhere people work.  Coworkers become family, and even police officers aren’t immune.  We’ve all seen movies and television shows where one bad cop has a bunch of other bad cops covering for him.  Most of these are grossly exaggerated, but to say that sort of thing doesn’t happen on some level is a bit naïve.

But would the PD post the pictures of these two off-duty officers on its Facebook page?  I highly doubt it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the effort being made by the PD to catch criminals, and I fully support the efforts of the police in eradicating crime.  And if I have information with regards to anything they post, I'll certainly be sharing it with them.  But my concern is that these postings need to be done in a fair and consistent manner.  If someone is acquitted or released of the charges pending against him/her, post that as well.  If it’s another cop or a judge or someone in a position of authority, post that too.  Don’t discriminate.

And speaking of discrimination, I’ve also noticed another issue that may pop up over the next few months regarding the races of the people in the pictures and racism in general.  I was going to include those thoughts here, but my post would have been entirely too long, so I’ll save it for my next one.  Anyway, what are your thoughts about your local PD posting pictures of those arrested on Facebook?  Good idea or bad?

1 comment:

  1. I would think that if they did post such things, they would disable comments. People can notify the police through other means if they have information to present. When those notices go out to newspapers, people don't get to indiscriminately post comments. I also agree that either they post all, or they post none. Nothing is worse than even the suspicion of discrimination, when it comes to the people who are tasked with upholding our laws. Great article!