In an effort to build a bigger online presence, humanize themselves and engage with the community they serve, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is posting photos of criminals each day.
They already have a large following in the Tampa Bay area, with nearly 77,000 followers on Facebook.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Melanie Snow, who helps run the dept’s social media accounts, says “Pasco Sheriff’s impressions have climbed since the office has expanded the amount and kinds of posts it puts online in its efforts to better connect with the community.”
But one particular post– showing suspect Marquis Porter in tears after his arrest– is drawing quite a bit of criticism.
“SAD CRIMINAL OF THE DAY,” the posts about Porter read on Facebook and Twitter. The photo showed two deputies “gripping chunks of his dreadlocks” as Porter sat in the grass with his hands behind his back.
Porter was trying to flee from officers during a traffic stop and intentionally ran a deputy off the road, NBC 6 reported. According to sheriff’s deputies, he was holding 9.5 grams of meth.
Some critics say posting pictures like this, when a suspect has been charged but not yet convicted, could create problems down the road.
“No matter how damning the evidence may seem…Porter is innocent until proven guilty. If the charges were dropped, Porter could build a civil case of libel,” said local criminal defense attorney Steve Romine.
Many of the comments on Facebook were written by users who agreed they don’t feel sorry for someone who put deputies’ lives in danger.
Snow also pointed out that: “This criminal is not different than any criminal we post about every single day…He was a threat to the community before. It’s important the community know he is in custody and no longer a threat to them.”
Ben Gorban, a policy analyst for the Police Foundation, says agencies have to be careful when they try to get creative and humorous with these posts.
“Without the policies in place and the right understanding of the organization and what the organization’s standing in the community is… things can come across the wrong way,” he said.
“When law enforcement toys with humor online, it can be kind of a hit or miss,” Gorban added.
It appears in the case of Pasco County, it was a hit. By Saturday afternoon the post about Porter had been shared more than 700 times and had more than 250 comments.
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