A petition created by a Lethbridge man is asking the Lethbridge Police Service to stop its “Wanted Wednesday” feature posts on social media, citing “prejudice” and “public shaming” as concerns.
Police have been creating the posts on Facebook and Twitter for several years, which typically include a photograph and a description of the person and their alleged crime, asking anyone with information to call authorities.
According to LPS, “Wanted Wednesday” is “one of many investigative tools the Lethbridge Police Service utilizes to locate and apprehend individuals who have been charged with Criminal Code offences and are evading arrest on those matters.”
Paul Butler, who has been living in Lethbridge since 2016, first came across “Wanted Wednesday” on Facebook in a post that involved a young woman.
“I suddenly saw the face of someone who, to me, looked very vulnerable,” he explained.
“It looked as though they were in trouble and struggling, (with a series) of alleged offences underneath it, and I couldn’t really believe that this stuff was being posted on Facebook.”
Less than a week ago, Butler created the petition asking police to drop the posts altogether and plans to submit it to LPS and the Lethbridge Police Commission in the near future.
As of Monday afternoon, it had garnered more than 300 virtual signatures.
“The only justification for (posting) someone’s face with a wanted poster on it is if they’re an imminent, serious threat to the public, and these people aren’t,” Butler said.
“I don’t think Lethbridge citizens want this public shaming.”
Butler said while social media use is inevitable and necessary in this day and age, he believes there are proper ways for police to use their platforms, adding he has come across comments degrading people’s appearances and race.
“Being open to changing course is part of what we all have to do with social media because this is still fairly new,” he explained.
“We have to find our own way and find our own rules and find our own ethics when it comes to social media.”
Global News reached out to LPS for a response to “Wanted Wednesday” concerns raised by Butler in the petition, and received a statement in return.
“It is a long-standing and effective strategy employed by many law enforcement agencies that relies on the assistance and support of the community,” the emailed statement read.
“The information on charged persons is part of the public domain and is accessible to all through the courts.
“Social media is a polarizing entity, and while the feature does attract replies from those who do not agree with its use, there are also many comments from supporters,” it continued, adding LPS monitors its social media channels and moderates inappropriate comments as quickly as resources allow.
“While there are no immediate plans to discontinue publically sharing information surrounding those individuals wanted on warrants of arrest, LPS will be reviewing its use of this tool, along with its short- and long-term communications strategies as part of its action plan to better serve the community.”