Police departments maintaining a presence on Facebook and Twitter are nothing new, but Evesham Township, N.J., is taking social-media law enforcement a step further by controversially posting arrest photographs on its Facebook page--like the names and photographs of people arrested for drunk driving. While the police department's Facebook page has been around for about six months, the decision to add DUI photos was added only on Monday.
Before you ask, no, this is not the township in New Jersey where "Snooki" was arrested for disorderly conduct. But if the rabble-rousing "Jersey Shore" star found out there was a police department that might give her antics even more attention than usual, maybe she'd show up and try to pull off some hijinks.
"This arms the public with information and puts a face with a name," an Evesham officer told the local Courier-Post newspaper on Wednesday, drawing the Facebook "wall" feature analogous to a virtual bulletin board. "We've got a lot of information on our wall. We're only as good as the information the public gives us."
The idea of having your face slapped onto the social Web may indeed be an effective crime deterrent. But it's not without some very vocal critics, even beyond those who may have been arrested in error or charged with particularly inoffensive misdemeanors. In the same Courier-Post article, Rutgers University law professor Bernard Bell commented that "it seems at the very least to be bad policy and inappropriate for a police department." Not to mention the fact that Facebook photos, of course, can be "tagged." The potential to tag legitimate mugshots seems like it could open a particularly ugly can of worms.
Representatives from the Evesham Police Department were not immediately available for comment.
It can all go far belong mischievous young Facebook users tagging their friends in grainy security-camera photos of convenience store robberies. The complexities of putting police data online were raised last month in a debate between high-profile digital academics Jeff Jarvis and Danah Boyd, with Boyd raising the specific situation that when arrest records are easily accessible online, it can disproportionately impact people in less fortunate socioeconomic circumstances.
"The rhetorics of harm and damage of this...are very important and I don't want to dismiss them," Boyd said at the time. "What happens when these decisions continue to magnify inequality?"