St. Louis police department makes bizarre Facebook note on Cleveland shooting

For some extremely bizarre reason, the Fenton Precinct of the St. Louis Police Department took to Facebook to encourage parents to talk about toy guns with their kids, and in so doing, invoked the death of Tamir Rice.

As you may have read, a 12 year old boy, Tamir Rice, was shot and killed by Cleveland Police after allegedly reaching for a toy gun when police had been called in response to a juvenile with a weapon. This shooting came shortly before the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown shooting, then the non-indictment of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the choking death of Eric Garner. Both deaths, and the subsequent lack of charges, have exacerbated racial tensions and race-relations with law enforcement in America.

Thus, the timing of this note by the Fenton Precinct of the St. Louis Police Department could not be worse:
St. Louid Police Department Note

The note was also tweeted:
StLouisPoliceTweet

The note is completely tone deaf.  It begins by mentioning the shooting of Tamir Rice and is titled “Kids will be kids?” which is certainly a terrible way to begin a story about the death of a 12-year old.  It then goes on to advice parents how to tell their kids to deal with toy weapons and what to do if they are challenged by police.

The St. Louis PD knew the note was bad, and they deleted it, and the subsequent tweet.  They never did acknowledge the note, or its deletion, via social media. However, in a second Facebook note, Police Chief Jon Belmar apologized:

…the 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 went on to say that social media policy had been changed to ensure that no such similar incident could occur in the future.

As for the post itself: It was written by Officer Aaron Dilks, who actually first hung up the phone when confronted by a reporter. In a later interview, Dilks explained his thinking:

I too was a kid, and I too would have done the same thing as Tamir Rice did. I was allowed to go play with guns, and have BB guns — we didn’t have Airsofts at the time. The point of the ‘kids will be kids’ is that’s what kids will do…The point of putting [the post] out was to educate and make sure something like this doesn’t happen in the city of Fenton or in our area.

A few thoughts on this disaster:

  1. What review process is in place in St, Louis? Clearly none, or a bad one, because this post should have been stopped before it was published.  Make sure that your agency has an appropriate social media review process in place, because Dilks made it appear as if he was speaking for the St. Louis Police Department. That wasn’t the case, and the St. Louis Police certainly has more than enough problems at the moment.
  2. If you delete a tweet, you have to explain why, even if it’s only, “We have deleted a status that did not reflect the thoughts of the St. Louis Police Department. We’ll have more to say on this later today.”  The silence is only compounding the Department’s original mistake.
  3. Don’t hang up on the media. It’s worse than not answering the media.
  4. Show sensitivity when discussing current events, particularly ones which are as racially charged as these. It would have been timely, and appropriate, to give tips on how parents and children should deal with toy guns, but the shooting of Tamir Rice should never have been invokved in such a note.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

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