Bridgton Police Facebook change welcomed

 

 

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The Bridgton Police Department has softened its approach to posting arrest information and mug shots on its Facebook page, Police Chief Kevin Schofield told selectmen Tuesday. But while the board welcomed the news, more work still needs to be done to craft a Digital Media Policy that allows the public to interact with the town through online social media.

On Monday, the police department started posting a weekly arrest log, which requires fans to click on the link to see recent arrests, along with photos of the persons arrested. Selectmen Bernie King, a leading critic of the practice, said the format change doesn’t go far enough, because fans can still comment at the end of the log on any of the persons arrested.

As example, the list posted Monday included a comment revealing additional personal information about the circumstances related to the arrest. And while the comment stated, “You look great in this pic,” it could have just as easily said something negative or defamatory about the person — which is what selectmen want to avoid.

The debate over the pros and cons of posting arrests and mug shots has been raging on the department’s Facebook page for months now, with strong opinions on both sides. In one recent post, Dayna Lea Shulack said she knows of at least six people who have lost their jobs because of the page’s “compete disregard to our constitutional rights.” She added that “Some of the crimes these people committed are FAR from crimes that could pose a threat to a job, yet now, they are faced with fines they cannot pay because (of) your poor decision to keep this ridiculous circus going on Facebook. Now they are facing yet another problem, being in contempt of a court order because they have no income to pay their fines. When will this end?”

Schofield said there have been no inappropriate comments posted under mug shots for a month now. He was commended for his efforts in working with a staff-based Digital Policy Committee to provide arrest information in a more acceptable format. But as Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said, social media is structured to invite social interaction, and to prevent any commenting defeats the purpose of a town using social media in the first place.

“The problem we’re facing is that most people can make comments for which they take no responsibility,” Berkowitz said. Page administrators can delete inappropriate or negative comments, but they cannot be expected to monitor each comment the moment it’s made, and some of those comments can stay on the page for hours before they’re detected and removed.

“Municipal government is slow to catch up with technology,” Berkowitz said. Facebook is the most popular social media site and potentially a very effective tool for municipalities to communicate information to its residents. But Twitter and other forms of social media are coming into vogue, said Berkowitz, and “if we don’t recognize that, we are going to be the digital dinosaur.”

Resident Greg Watkins suggested that the town could use a static website, which doesn’t allow commenting, for the posting of arrests and other information, and then provide a link to an interactive Facebook page. He said Facebook offers options for many different kinds of pages, based on the category that is selected when the page is first created.

“As soon as you post something to Facebook, it no longer belongs to you,” he said. Watkins added that pages can be created for people without their knowledge. Speaking to Selectman Doug Taft, who has no knowledge of Facebook, Watkins said, “I can go home tonight and Doug would have a Facebook account.”

King said that if the Digital Media Policy contained language requiring arrest information to be accessible only through a link to a read-only site, “I don’t have a problem with that.”

The policy committee will continue its work and report back to the board when it has enough information to make a final recommendation.

 

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