The St. Louis County Police Department issued an apology Thursday afternoon for a Facebook post that mentioned Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was holding a pellet gun and shot to death by a Cleveland police officer last month.
The post, written by an officer in the department’s Fenton precinct, urged parents to counsel their children about handling realistic-looking pellet and toy guns, especially in public areas.
“This article is not about a boy losing his life, whether this was a justified shooting, or whether the cops acted too fast,” the Facebook post said of the Cleveland case, adding that the intent was to make parents aware of a “hot” topic and to protect children’s safety.
“If the type of gun is in question by the witness, the police will respond as though it is a real gun until it can be confirmed one way or the other,” the post continued, adding that “police will respond [with] lights and sirens and come to a screeching halt in the area where your child is playing,” -- events similar to those caught on camera in Tamir's shooting.
St. Louis County police spokesman Shawn McGuire said the post was then automatically tweeted from the St. Louis County Police Department’s Twitter handle. It prompted a swift and furious reaction on social media that called the post “outrageous” and “tone-deaf.”
In a statement, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the post was a “misguided communication strategy and was offensive to many people.” His department has been heavily involved in policing sometimes-violent protests after a grand jury decision not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
“The post conveyed the message that my officers respond to calls involving a child with a gun with indiscretion and little regard for life,” Belmar said. “We train officers to take all facts and circumstances into consideration when making decisions about using force.”
The Facebook post was published a little over a week after a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson for killing Brown, sparking protests nationwide. St. Louis County police, along with Ferguson police, the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies, were among the agencies responding to weeks of protests in the St. Louis area.
The post, titled “Kids will be Kids?” was written by Officer Aaron Dilks in the Felton precinct, the St. Louis County Police Department confirmed. Dilks said he was a kid once too, and, “I too would have done the same thing as Tamir Rice did.” He told Mediaite that the point of the post was to educate the public to make sure something similar did not happen in Fenton. “It’s a tragedy. It’s a shame that a child got shot. I guess that’s all I should probably say about it,” he told the website.
The Police Department has removed the post, and says it is changing its social media policies to prevent something similar from happening in the future. McGuire says the department is considering centralizing its social media operations to restrict control over precinct pages. No disciplinary action is planned for the officer who wrote the post, McGuire told The Times.
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