Saga of arrest log rights continues

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The mug shots were missing from the arrest log posted Sunday on the Bridgton Police Department’s Facebook page. But the public was still being allowed to comment on the arrests, which runs contrary to the direct order given six days earlier from the Bridgton Board of Selectmen.

On Tuesday, Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz could not explain at first why the police department was still allowing public commenting on arrests when the board, on Feb. 12, had voted to stop the practice. He said he would need to review video of the meeting to hear the precise wording of the motion.

A review of the motion, made by board member Bob McHatton and seconded by Bernie King, showed that the motion was to order the police department to “pull down the mug shots and the comments, but still use Facebook as a communications tool.” When this reporter asked the board how the department was expected to disable the comments feature from the arrest log itself, board member Woody Woodward said, “There are ways to get around that,” by creating a link that, once clicked, would send users to the town’s website, where the arrest log could be posted as a static page, without any commenting possible.

BPD Facebook page administrator Joshua Muise also foreshadowed the problem inherent in the board’s motion by saying, “Even without photos, when you open it (the list of arrests), you’ll still be able to see the comments.”

Woodward said it would therefore be necessary to allow the department access to the town’s website, so that the posting of arrests could be made directly from there, instead of on the BPD’s Facebook page.

However, on Wednesday, Police Chief Kevin Schofield said he was satisfied that he was following the board’s instructions in posting the arrests on Sunday with the commenting feature still available.

“I was asked if I was clear on the board’s instructions, and I said, as I understand it, we could continue to post the blotter but could not post photographs,” Schofield said. “As we all know, you cannot shut down comments on Facebook.”

When questioned about Woodward’s suggestion that the arrest log be placed on the town website, Schofield said he was satisfied he was complying with the board’s order.

There were no negative or derogatory comments associated with the Sunday arrest log, and no comments that directly referred to one of the persons who had been arrested. Police Chief Kevin Schofield had tried to tell the board he had cleared up the problem of direct attacks on arrested persons by changing the format in mid-November so that it wasn’t possible to comment directly under the information or picture associated with any one person. Now it is only possible to comment at the end of the list, and Schofield used this argument to request that his department preserve the right to continue posting arrests on its Facebook page.

Imitation the most sincere flattery

Meanwhile, another Facebook page has been created called Bridgton Arrests, “in order to keep up the transparency the public has become accustomed to,” according to its creator, Greg Jones, a volunteer at Lake Region Television. Jones created the page immediately after the board’s Feb. 12 vote.

Jones filed a Freedom of Information request on Friday and began posting the arrests, with mug shots, on Tuesday. The format is similar to the BPD’s most recent effort at limiting derogatory commenting, in that it does not allow posting of comments under individual photos and arrest information.

As of presstime, one week after its creation, the Bridgton Arrests page had generated 233 “likes” — far fewer than the BPD’s 3,778 “likes,” but a strong beginning nonetheless. Jones, who spoke up at the board meeting in favor of the BPD’s effort to make arrest information available to the public, said, “This page has been created in response to the restrictions placed on the Bridgton Police Department by the town selectmen.”

At the board meeting, Jones said he realized the The Bridgton News prints a weekly police log, but said he preferred getting the information from the police department, the difference being, “I have to pay to buy The Bridgton News, I don’t have to pay to access Facebook.”

Jones’ efforts have been criticized by some people on the Bridgton Arrests page, and he said he has had to ban three people so far. He got off to a rough start with his declaration, “If you make complaints about the ‘injustice’ of putting the pictures or reports up, then you will be banned,” prompting one person to respond that such a statement “goes against everything the Constitution was fighting. Censorship…nice…so agree with you or be gone? Wow!”

Jones later said he was amending his policy on banning comments, saying he would message the person and get clarification before making any decision to ban them, unless the comment was “blatantly crude or hateful.” He also said, “I hope that we will make this page a success, and show the people of the town that forums like this can be productive and can be done in a professional and respectful manner.”

Controversy over the BPD’s posting of arrests and mug shots arose last fall, when McHatton questioned the practice at a board meeting. At that time, the department’s Facebook page was generating some pretty demeaning comments under the pictures, with adjectives like “loser” and “moron,” and also revealing unflattering personal information about the person.

Schofield received assurances from the board that the department’s page would be able to continue posting video and pictures of crime suspects, in order to solicit tips from the public to assist in making an arrest. The page has directly resulted in at least six separate arrests of persons police say would not have been arrested otherwise, if not for the public’s help.

 

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