City & Politics

Social media and the Regina police

The Regina Police Service (RPS) has temporarily shut down its Facebook page, after receiving numerous hateful and vitriolic comments for an incident involving the police recently.

On March 24, police responded to an incident of an assault and called in the canine unit to assist with the search for two suspects. The dog led the two officers through a yard, which happened to contain a pit bull that was chained up. The two dogs then fought each other briefly. What happened after that varies depending upon who is telling the story.

The police say one of the officers attempted to intervene in the fight between the two dogs, but was taken down in the process by the pit bull. The other officer also attempted to step into the fray in an attempt to prevent any injury to the police dog or other officer. However, being unsuccessful, the officer took out his pistol and fired a single shot into the pit bull, which died because of the gunshot.

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However, the owner of the dog offers a different version of events. He says he didn’t see anyone run into his yard before the police came through. He was in the process of pulling a vehicle into his garage when he heard shouting. He says he immediately jumped out and ran to his backyard – which took no more than roughly five seconds, he claimed – where he heard more yelling before the sound of a gunshot rang out.

The pit bull’s owner finally came into the backyard to see his dog moving to hide under the deck, where it then died.

This incident happened on a Sunday. By Monday morning the Regina Police Service’s Facebook page had been inundated with comments about the situation, many of them offensive in nature. The RPS then temporarily suspended comments on the page, in order to clean up the comments and ensure no more were posted. The organization’s website and Twitter account are still active though.

One of the more egregious comments left on the Facebook page included the following: “maybe we should chain a police officer up and shoot them and see how they like it.”

Now, can you imagine someone posting such hateful and vile stuff on a police Facebook page of all places? Wouldn’t someone at least think twice about acting like a troll and posting disgusting comments? After all, most people on Facebook have one account, and when you post anything on the social media site, it shows who you are and your name. I would think this would be enough public disclosure to give someone a sober second thought before posting their negative comment.

But apparently not this time. According to the RPS, some of the people who were posting were not even from Regina, from Saskatchewan or living in Canada. This would definitely make it difficult to shame such people publicly for their slanderish comments.

This case goes to show that even for a policing organization, it can be incredibly difficult to ensure conversations online remain civil and free from profanity, hate speech and promoting violence. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are called “social” media for a reason. It’s where almost anyone can post what they think or believe about a subject. And yet, there are those few – let’s be blunt and call them trolls – who apparently have no shame or conscience that may hold them back from typing outlandish and harmful comments. What you and I would think twice about saying out loud to someone’s face, another person may not hesitate to fire off such a message online. Sometimes that’s called “flaming” or baiting in Internet parlance.

Personally, I have created a couple fake pseudonyms/nom de guerres on a couple of websites, only to ensure what I say doesn’t come back in the future to bite me in the butt. I don’t say slanderous or hateful things, but when you’re discussing social issues in society, some of those conversations can become quite heated. But I digress.

The police do the best they can with what they have. I’m not being an apologist, but stating a fact plainly. A police dog is effectively a member of the police force. People who have injured or killed police dogs in the past have gone to jail. In this situation, the police reacted in the best interest of their members by protecting one of their own.

Since pit bulls don’t exactly have the best reputation in the dog world, and the police were on the hunt for two suspects in an assault case, the officers needed to make a decision quickly when the dog fight broke out.

In light of the hateful comments posted on the RPS Facebook page, the RPS’s union is calling for more stringent and immediate changes to the organization’s Facebook policy.
“The Regina Police Association is no longer prepared to tolerate cowardly, slanderous messages on the RPS Facebook page by people full of opinion and short on facts,” said Evan Bray, president of the Regina Police Association, during a media conference on Monday.

“If you truly have a complaint, by all means, come down and lodge it formally. But to hide behind a computer and throw these types of comments at our officers is not something we should be standing for.”

Asked whether hiring another person or two to monitor the social media sites 24/7 was achievable, Bray said on one hand, it’s something to think about. On the other hand, he added, that money could better be put into hiring more police officers and putting them on the streets.

That comment is quite accurate. They could hire 10 social media communications people to monitor and maintain the sites and people would still post hateful and vile comments. There is only so much an organization can do before it says “enough” and either suspends or shuts down the page or website. There is only so much patience a policing organization should realistically have before it decides there is no point in continuing a pointless conversation.

While being open and transparent is important, along with talking with the public, every relationship should have boundaries. If this means the RPS suspends its Facebook page for roughly a month, as it intends to do, before deciding to continue or change to something else, then that is its right. While we need to be critical in a good way of our police force’s actions, spewing hateful comments about the organization meant to keep us safe is not the way to go.

Jason Antonio is the Regina correspondent for Spectator Tribune.

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