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Appleton officials criticize police Facebook page (UPDATE)

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Some Appleton officials are questioning a police practice of posting information about suspects on Facebook, saying it exposes them to public humiliation before they are proven guilty.

The posts meant to inform the public and solve crimes are often susceptible to hurtful comments, jokes and threats, Post-Crescent Media reported. Local officials have expressed concern over the way suspects are identified on the page, which often includes a person’s mug shot and birthdate.

Appleton Ald. Sarah Garb said she had an issue with a September post about a 17-year-old who was suspected of robbing a man at knife point because it could lead to racist comments.

“I understand informing the public, but I don’t understand why we’re parading them out on social media,” Garb said.

Such posts often fuel a desire to see people at their worst, Ald. Kyle Lobner said, but Appleton police have used them correctly as a tool to gather information about crimes.

“However, there are some real pitfalls to consider and avoid when it comes to allowing and engaging in public debates in the comments, sharing information that does not contribute to any real change in public safety and potentially impacting arrested suspects’ rights to a fair trial,” Lobner said.

Sgt. Dave Lund, who spearheads the department’s social media tactics, says the Facebook page is routinely screened for comments that violate terms posted in its “about” section. Problematic posts are addressed, he said, and are either responded to, hidden or deleted.

“Unless the post is so vulgar, threatening violence or inflammatory and requires immediate ‘hiding’ of the post, a warning is issued,” Lund said.

Other police departments throughout the country and state, including those in Menasha and Eau Claire, exercise similar practices on their Facebook pages.

“From our perspective, that person has been arrested with probable cause,” said Stephanie Slater, president of the National Information Officers Association. “A district attorney may have a different legal standard, but police rely on probable cause, and it’s a law enforcement Facebook page.”

Officials will continue to discuss the police department’s social media practices at an upcoming safety panel, but no proposals have been made to introduce changes so far.

Information from: Post-Crescent Media,

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