A message from Chief Jon Belmar regarding this morning’s Facebook post: “On Thursday, December 4, 2014, an… http://t.co/hUWlwAQs3Y
— St. Louis County PD (@stlcountypd) December 4, 2014
With law enforcement across the country being scrutinized for their enforcement tactics, now is not the time to address the public with jokes, puns, plays on words, or anything other than facts. Moreover, if you’re speaking on behalf of your group on a sensitive topic, run your correspondence up the flagpole to make sure it doesn’t cause offense. Someone at the St. Louis County police department in Fenton didn’t get this message before posting a note this morning on social media referring to the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at the hands of a police officer.
In a post that has since been removed, someone from this department sought to educate readers about Airsoft pistols and pellet guns, warning that “children should have rules for ‘toy’ guns that mirror the rules of real guns.” But before this person could get to the safety advisory, they opened with the question, “Kids will be Kids?” and then used Rice’s tragic story to illustrate the danger, admitting that they “[did] not know all the details of the story.”
The note goes on to warn parents to make sure that kids know how to behave if the cops are called because a toy gun can be mistaken for a real weapon. “They need to comply with officers [sic] instructions. They may be ordered to lie on the ground…”
After the post went up, the St. Louis County spokesperson contacted Buzzfeed News with an apology and further statement from the Department Chief Jon Belmar.
The statement reads in part:
[T]he post was a misguided communication strategy and was offensive to many people.
As Chief of Police, I apologize to Tamir’s family and anyone who was offended by the post. While the post did not originate from the Chief’s Office and I was unaware of its presence prior to its release, I realize the message was insensitive to Tamir’s family and the sorrow they are currently experiencing. The post conveyed the message that my officers respond to calls involving a child with a gun with indiscretion and little regard for life. I want to emphasize that my officers respond to calls with discernment, and have the highest regard for human life.
He goes on to say that the social media policy has since been changed to avoid this sort of problem in the future.
First the basics: Anyone using an organization’s social media feed should be vetted to make sure they understand the rules and the standards of propriety.
Second, there needs to be a revisiting of social media policies to make sure they’re up-to-date. With all of the news lately and the desire to use social media as a communication tool, a review should’ve been done last week if not before.
Finally, and maybe this has gone without saying and needs to be made explicit, a child’s death (or an adult’s death) is nothing to be clever with. You want to make a point about safety? Make your point. That young man’s family buried him yesterday. A review is ongoing with documents from 2012 showing that the officer who shot him was deemed “unfit” for his job, indicating that even with all of these warnings, the outcome might’ve been the same. Protests have erupted nationwide over violent policing practices. This is a topic too sensitive for bad social media outreach.