Police 'Valencrimes' posts mock people who aren't yet convicted, criminal defence lawyer says

A criminal defence lawyer is criticizing a Valentine's Day social media campaign run by Calgary police, saying the tone of the posts run contrary to the service's stated core values.

One CPS constable said majority of Calgarians approve of the posts

Calgary police removed a social media campaign which featured suspects wanted on warrants in punny Valentine's Day cards. 'We're not fooled by the rocks that you got, you're still Jenny from the (cell) block,' this card reads, referencing a Jennifer Lopez song. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

A criminal defence lawyer is criticizing a Valentine's Day social media campaign run by Calgary police, saying the tone of the posts run contrary to the service's stated core values.

Every week, Calgary police post outstanding warrants on social media, asking the public for tips.

On Friday, police tweeted a series of "Valencrimes," posting Valentine's for each wanted person.

"We just took a DNA test & turns out we're 100% still looking for you" one CPS post read, referencing lyrics from singer Lizzo — an artist who recorded a song against police brutality, with proceeds going to the U.S. National Police Accountability Project.

"Police have a duty to execute warrants and that's a component of what we expect them to do. But I think we expect them to approach any member of the public, including an accused person — which is the status all people have — with some kind of dignity, respect, integrity and sensitivity," said criminal defence lawyer Sarah Rankin, adding that all of the people featured are accused and have not been convicted.

"We don't expect them to openly make fun of people who are in who knows what sort of situation."

The social posts garnered mixed reactions online.

Rankin said many of the charges featured in the posts like "failure to appear in court" are indications someone may be dealing with a difficult and complicated situation, and that often these people are marginalized in different ways — something she's seen with her clients.

She said she knows there are insightful and nuanced conversations happening within CPS about issues with charges that can often lead to "revolving door offenders," but to see those types of charges presented in this way to the public gives her pause.

Rankin pointed to stated values on CPS' website, like "respect," "compassion" and "fairness" — the final point stating that police "provide care and service that is void of judgment."

CPS also ran a similar campaign last year and one of last year's posts appears to have been deleted.

Const. Mark Smith defended the posts on his Twitter, saying "the majority of Calgarians seem to approve." 

"There are literally thousands of positive comments from today's campaign. I guess as the saying goes, 'don't commit crime if you can't handle the heat!'" he wrote in response to one critic.

CBC News has reached out to Calgary police media for comment.

Rankin said police as an institution are in a challenging spot right now, as they try to both execute their function in policing while keeping up with what she described as evolving social demands.

But she said presenting caricatures of accused people doesn't help with that conversation.

"We give them in some ways a really conflicting set of obligations. These tweets I think were cruel and mean-spirited. At the same time, you don't want to paint the institution with a single brush. And it really is about whether they can absorb this and communicate that they understand that public function," she said.

With files from Terri Trembath


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