Update: 7/14: more on this from AP via CBS Boston.
Update 5/18: Great story in the Globe this morning on this. The Taunton police lieutenant who wrote the post is unapologetic, but Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal of
@LawyersCom_MA correctly notes that cops are effectively mocking people with mental health or substance abuse issues here.
Should the police be cracking jokes and humiliating people they arrest via social media? That’s what happened this week in Taunton, MA.
There was a story that originated from the Taunton Police Department Facebook page about a woman charged for DUI after an accident.
But if the arresting police department doesn’t make a big post about it on their own Facebook page, there is probably no story beyond a few police log fans.
The original police post includes laugh lines like:
- Amy requested from the Officers they call a Tow Truck to pull the 1999 Mercedes C280 to the roadway so they could be on their way.
Sorry Amy, we can’t move the car right now. If we do, what will you use to hold yourself up?
- The Bearded Dragon Lizard was transferred to the Taunton Police Department and turned over to the Animal Control Officer. It faces no charges at this time.
The original post by the Taunton PD is now at over 1400 likes and shares.
Public Transparency vs. Public Humiliation
Police records are public information, and for good reason. The powerful shouldn’t be able to hide behind sealed incident reports and arrest records. And there is a genuine public interest in police transparency.
If some intrepid reporter had dug into the police report and noted the silliness of a lizard, and chosen to exploit that for news value, or even just clickbait, that would be one thing. I might not love it, but it would be a legitimate first amendment right.
But this wouldn’t even be a story if the police department themselves didn’t choose to publicize jokes online at the defendants expense. And for what purpose? Just for social media attention and “Likes”? That is not a legitimate use or professional behavior by the police department.
The police are entrusted with enormous power to arrest and even kill people in the name of public safety. That authority comes with it a grave responsibility to use their power wisely, judiciously and appropriately. When you arrest a person, you are taking their life in your hands.
That responsibility shouldn’t never be used to belittle and publicly mock those who are entrusted in your care.
Police departments should review their social media use policies, if they have them, and carefully consider what message they are sending. Because publicly laughing at vulnerable people whom you have complete power over is nothing more than bullying behavior, and shouldn’t be tolerated.