UTICA, NY – The Utica police Facebook page has been taken down due to “strong criticism” from local and state politicians, city police said.
One of those elected officials is state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, who said he opposes the negative and racist comments from the public regarding those arrested, but has no problem with the existence of the page.
He said the comments give the area a bad image to those not from the region when they view the site.
The page had 25,391 fans and began in November 2010. It regularly made available the most recent arrests with attached mugshots, suspects caught on surveillance cameras in which the public is asked for assistance, and other police-related events.
The site was taken down at about 3 p.m. Friday, and police Sgt. Steve Hauck said it will be for the “time being, and perhaps forever.”
“I have deactivated the page due to strong criticism by our local and state politicians, who feel that the page shows Utica in a poor light,” wrote Hauck in a statement. “Since starting the page, I have tried to be as open and transparent as possible with the media and citizens that we serve. We have accomplished great things with the page, having closed dozens of cases that otherwise would have gone unsolved.
“In my conversations with these concerned parties, I have expressed my dismay at some of the comments that are made on the page,” he continued. “I disagree with people criticizing others’ appearances or making racially insensitive comments, to name a few. I also understand that social media will always have its detractors. I have to balance between what offends me personally and what is someone’s right to free speech.”
Brindisi said he expressed concern to Utica officials after receiving calls from some of his constituents about the negative comments and then observing the site himself. He said he is willing to meet with police to discuss the future of the site.
“I think UPD should have a Facebook page, but for useful and informative information … not bigoted comments,” said Brindisi, referring to the public’s posts regarding arrestees on the site.
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri could not immediately be reached Friday.
When Common Councilman Frank Vescera, D-1, was reached, he said it was his first time hearing that the page had been taken down and was surprised at the news.
“From what I remember, when the page was begun and from the reports and the statements made over the next several weeks and months after the page came out, it was touted as a positive for a number of reasons, many of them being that leads were received from the public on crimes that were committed, and the responses that I remember coming out of our department were positive,” he said.
Councilwoman Samantha Colosimo-Testa, R-6, who is on the city’s Public Safety Committee, also said she was unaware of the site being taken down and believed it had benifited residents.
A recent Observer-Dispatch story regarding how police departments utilize Facebook found that a study done by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police in 2011 showed 75.5 percent of departments nationwide prefer Facebook.
“Over the last two years, we’ve really seen a large growth of agencies coming on board and starting to use social media in a wide variety of ways,” said Nancy Kolb, senior program manager for the association.
In that article, Utica police said they had thought about ridding their Facebook page of comments.
The article also stated that the New York Civil Liberties Union had sent letters to area police departments expressing concern over allowing Facebook users to comment on mug shots and information about people who were arrested.