Chief of Police Lawrence Battiste issued an apology to residents of Mobile, Alabama, on behalf of his department on Monday after a post from one of his officers went viral and depicted what he described as an “insensitive gesture” to the public.
The since-deleted photo in question continued to receive attention on social media due to screenshots of the post published by netizens such as Facebook user Eduardo Romero.
“Wanna wish everybody in 4th precinct a Merry Christmas , especially our captain . Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt! Sincerely, Panhandler patrol. [sic]” read the image’s caption, which was originally posted to Facebook through a Mobile Police Department officer’s private Facebook page.
The “quilt” being held up by two cops in the photo was a collage of cardboard signs used by homeless individuals who were busted for panhandling.
“Although we do not condone panhandling and must enforce the city ordinances that limit panhandling, it is never our intent or desire as a police department to make light of those who find themselves in a homeless state,” Battiste said in the department’s apology issued via Facebook. “Rather, our position has always been to partner with community service providers to help us help those faced with homelessness with hope to improve their quality of life.”
Many netizens expressed their disagreement with the police chief’s course of action and argued that his words were not enough to ensure the force could be trusted by the community.
“The officers, the person taking the photo, the person that posted this and their supervisors should all be fired!!” Chris Shawver commented under the social media post. “They all have shown they lack the professionalism and empathy required to obtain public trust!!
Facebook user Melinda Kelley also called for the firing of the two officers seen in the photo and asserted that “homelessness is a LARGE national problem.”
“People dont choose to or enjoy being homeless, for God's sake have some empathy,” she added.
However, not every social media user felt the cops deserved the backlash they were receiving.
“So fire them for being insensitive and making a mistake that I'm sure they are regretting right now? So ruin their lives forever right?” Angie Chance Adams said in response to a comment calling for the officers depicted to be fired. “They probably have a family, maybe kids? I say yes they definitely should face disciplinary action, even if that means volunteering at a homeless shelter or something similar.”
Citing data from homeless assistance organization Housing First, local Mobile outlet Fox 10 reported that at least 2,500 individuals without a home in the area sought help of some kind from the group in 2019.
“What I think this does more than anything else is give us an opportunity to talk about homelessness in Mobile and Baldwin counties and what resources are available to this community when we talk about the subject,” Housing First CEO Derek Boulware said.
Battiste informed the the outlet that an internal investigation would take place into the officers’ “lapse in judgement” and claimed the probe will result in a determination of whether it was done out of “malice” or was simply a “mistake.”
“We have to take responsibility for it; we did it,” he said. “We have to own it at this point.”