The unofficial police presence on social media tells us a lot

Go past the community engagement posts and you see the real story

The unofficial police presence on social media tells us a lot
Michael Spratt

For all its many many toxic faults, Twitter (now X) has delivered a valuable public service – providing us all with a front-row seat to the inner musings of Canada's finest law enforcement agencies. It's like a virtual confessional booth for cops, where they occasionally let slip a nugget of truth or reveal a glimpse of their deepest, and sometimes disturbing, thoughts. And it is time that we start paying attention to what the police are trying to tell us.

From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to those small-town police departments you've never heard of, they've all got their own Twitter handles and boy, do they know how to use them.

But what exactly are they trying to tell us in their 280-character manifestos?

Sure, you'll find the usual self-promotion and image-polishing – OPP officers saving kittens, Ottawa's finest generously donating blood, and the RCMP patting themselves on the back for having 2SLGBTQIA+ employees. It's like a never-ending parade of good deeds and virtue signalling.

And yes, there are those occasional bursts of public service announcements – safety reminders, requests for information, and triumphant proclamations of big arrests. You know the ones, where they proudly display a table overflowing with guns and drugs, conveniently omitting any follow-up about what actually happened in court (hint: it's not always as glamorous as it seems).

But let's be honest, there's not much public value in these police Twitter accounts, except when they let their guard down and the mask slip.

While you were out enjoying your summer vacation, our police forces were busy revealing just how broken they truly are, one tweet at a time. So, my friends, it's high time we pay attention to what the police trying to tell us.

As the summer heat sizzled on, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) East Region thought it was high time to document their daring crusade against illicit beach brews. Behold, the saga of their beer-busting beach patrols, which yielded a whopping three seized Michelob 4.2 percent tall boys.

Do we really want our police force chasing down rogue brews on the beach while more serious matters go unresolved? It is a universal truth, police are always thirsty for more money and spending on police has grown faster than spending on social services, city planning, or public transit. But is the confiscation of lukewarm lagers truly the pinnacle of public safety?

Over in Sarnia, the local police force celebrated a Jean Valjean-inspired arrest of a woman for shoplifting groceries. They couldn't contain their excitement, proudly displaying the loot on the rear of their police car like it was the haul of the century. Not only did they slap the cuffs on her, but they also held her for bail, as if she were some grand criminal mastermind. But hold on, weren't they the same folks warning us about a surge in violent crime? It's almost as if priorities are just a distant memory.

Now, the Sarnia police eventually deleted that eyebrow-raising tweet after a barrage of online criticism, citing a misalignment with their "internal and community expectations." But, interestingly enough, they forgot to include the words "we are sorry" or any form of genuine apology for their poverty-shaming tweets or their eagerness to unleash the full force of an oppressive carceral system on non-violent offenders.

It seems Mark Baxter, the president of the Police Association of Ontario, had no qualms about criminalizing the hungry. In response to the outcry, he casually remarked, "We need bail reform passed for repeat violent offenders such as this." Wait, what? Characterizing shoplifting as a violent offense? When confronted, Baxter tried to backpedal, claiming it was a "typo" and that this "obviously wasn't a violent offense, just a repeat offender." But let's not kid ourselves; typos don't usually make grammatical and (albeit from a twisted authoritarian perspective) logical sense. This, my friends, is a glimpse into the mindset of some in law enforcement.

And then the Winnipeg police said, hold my Michelob, and booted up their Twitter account.

In May 2022, the name Jeremy Skibicki hit the headlines, charged with the murder of three Indigenous women. A chilling revelation emerged: evidence strongly suggested that one of the women's remains rested in a Winnipeg landfill. Fast forward to this summer, and we learned that the RCMP was flat-out refusing to search the landfill, claiming they weren't equipped for the task.

It turned out that people, at least those with a soul, were upset with the callous refusal. According to the Winnipeg Police, “phrases including profanity and acronyms used by police abolitionist groups were spray painted along the WPFG (World Police & Fire Games) Half Marathon route.” The profanity and acronyms, according to the photographs posted by the cops was “Search the Landfills” and “NO MORE COPS” and “ACAB.”

So, what did the police do? They decided to assign their Major Crimes unit to investigate. To the cops, graffiti investigations, at least when it comes to those critical of the police, are more important that a murder case.

Graffiti and hurt feelings over a murder investigation, beer busts over bail compliance checks, imprisoning the hungry, and viewing shoplifting as an act of violence.

When the police tell us about their priorities we should listen. And the next time police ask for budget increases or claim that they are overwhelmed with violent crime, we should boot up Twitter and remind them what they did last summer.

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