Over the last several years, Social media has evolved and is now being widely used to “out” people or “shame” them for various infractions or perceived transgressions. Husbands shame their wives; wives shame their husbands; and parents shame their children. One of the most infamous shaming of a teenager happened in 2012 when a dad read a letter and then shot his daughter’s computer. Sadly, a 13 year old teenager recently killed herself after her father posted a video of him punishing her on YouTube.
Racists Getting Fired on Tumblr has a mission to bring attention to racist comments on social media and contact the employer of those who made them. There is a widespread trend in California by many to shame those who are using excessive water or violating the water restrictions in the state. The hashtag #droughtshaming has been used extensively
CNN had a good piece identifying numerous examples of social media shaming. They identified some of the long term consequences affecting the offenders. In most of these cases, individuals are the ones doing the shaming. What happens when the one doing the shaming is the local police department?
Across the country, there are many police departments posting booking photos of suspects who have been arrested. The offense is irrelevant in most cases; misdemeanor or felony arrest; all photos get posted. But is this a good idea?
At the department I lead, we have never posted booking photos. However, in the past we have posted photos of suspects as they are being arrested. We received some negative comments from the public and after having some internal discussions, I made the decision to discontinue that practice. Today, we only post photos of suspects being arrested from a distance or from an angle where it is impossible to identify who it is.
A recent article in the New York Times brought this issue to light in South Burlington, VT. The majority of law enforcement agencies that post the booking photos do so for a couple of reasons. The first is to demonstrate transparency to the public. Regardless of stature in the community, your photo gets posted. The second reason is to hopefully deter others from committing crimes for fear of their photo being posted online.
Unfortunately, the effect from police initiated shaming of arrestees can have a long term negative affect on those we arrest. Our society and our system of laws have laid out the appropriate punishments due our citizens for their violations. In addition, this practice can produce negative reactions in our communities, especially in our current climate. As a law enforcement agency, we have to be careful that we don’t use social media to contribute to the lawful punishment outlined under the law. We should leave the extra punishments and consequences to others. We are better served by using social media to engage, inspire and connect with our community.