REEDSBURG, WI – The Reedsburg Police Department’s practice of posting suspects’ mug shots on its Facebook page is creating a controversy in the small town.
Chief Tim Becker said he’s using his department’s Facebook page to inform the public and remain transparent.
While more people have “liked” the police department’s page, others in town are criticizing the practice of posting mug shots of people who haven’t been convicted. Critics said they’re also concerned about offensive online comments being made about the mug shots.
Becker started the Reedsburg police Facebook page in 2010. It was a slow start, but one thing quickly made the page popular.
“When we started to release media releases to the page, we noticed there was an influx of people liking the page, and now we have over 2,300 people,” Becker said.
Reedsburg has a population of about 10,000 people. Some residents who saw the Facebook page gave their reactions Tuesday.
“The public records are public records. To put them online is the same thing as saying, ‘I want to look at that,'” said resident Cody Rosh. “So, I would really say it depends what’s the purpose of putting it on there.”
But Robert Parkhurst, a former three-term alderman, is strongly opposed to the practice.
“Nobody should be condemned guilty unless they have their day in court. Some of these things that come up on there, people are actually found innocent of,” Parkhurst said. “It’s a small town and people read a lot of what goes on the Internet.”
Parkhurst admitted that he has been on the page himself, after being cited for filing a false complaint of police misconduct over a court document he claims was not legally destroyed. The case remains open.
“I just think it’s heavy handed. It’s not needed. It should be a helpful page. On the police cars it says, ‘To protect and serve,'” Parkhurst said.
Some public comments posted on the Facebook regarding the mug shots are offensive, critics said.
Becker said he is the lone administrator and he works to remove comments that he finds offensive.
“Anything I think is offensive, I remove. Profanity is removed, and if it’s openly disrespectful to the defendant or someone involved in that story, it’s removed,” Becker said.
Becker said his actions aren’t different than sending media releases to the press.
“I appreciate the interaction we have through the public with that site,” Becker said.
Becker said he posted about a warrant out for a Reedsburg man that police couldn’t find who owed a fine. The man contacted police from Georgia and asked if his mug shot could be removed from the page if he paid the fine, police said.
Becker agreed and said without the page, police wouldn’t have that kind of compliance.
Becker said the mug shots generated interest, but the benefit is if there’s severe weather or something else, police can easily let the public know.
“It’s a lot better way of getting in touch with people a lot quicker,” he said.
Large police departments, such as the Philadelphia Police Department, use Facebook similarly, WISC-TV reported.