The Mobile Police Department is conducting an investigation of comments one of its officers allegedly made on Facebook more than three years ago.
The department confirmed it was investigating the matter Thursday after a group of people began circulating screenshots of a comment MPD officer Deron McMichael purportedly left on a Facebook page that regularly shares mugshots from arrests in Mobile.
The comment was a derogatory remark about a mugshot of a woman wearing a hijab, though other statements on accounts said to be linked to McMichael have been circulating on social media as well. In a social media post of its own, MPD said it had heard the concerns and was looking into the matter.
“The department is conducting an active investigation to determine the authenticity of those comments. Based on the results of our investigation, the appropriate administrative action will be taken,” it read. “[MPD] holds all of its officers accountable to serve and protect with respect for everyone.”
McMichael, who has been a patrol officer in Mobile for nearly 16 years, has been featured in the local media on a number of occasions in recent years. He was featured on the WKRG “Smiles Beyond the Badge” series last year, though it has since been taken down. He was also featured on Fox 10 in 2018 after helping raise money to buy Christmas presents for a family after theirs were stolen in a burglary.
It should also be noted that McMichael was removed from the list of finalists in the “Best Police Officer” category of this year’s Nappie Awards after Lagniappe publishers Rob Holbert and Ashley Trice were made aware of the comments and the fact that MPD may have been investigating them.
“Though Lagniappe does not choose the finalists in our annual Readers’ Choice Contest known as the Nappie Awards — they are determined by votes from our readers — we felt it best to remove Officer Deron McMichael as a finalist for Mobile Bay’s Best Police Officer once we were made aware of the comments he allegedly made on social media,” Holbert and Trice said in a statement. “It is our understanding the Mobile Police Department is currently looking into this matter.”
Speaking to Lagniappe, Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said he couldn’t discuss any specifics about the investigation into McMichael’s comments from 2016, but he did say stressing appropriate behavior on social media has been a priority for the department over the past several months.
He said the issue became a focus after an officer shared a post last December of he and another officer holding what they called a “homeless quilt” made out of cardboard signs MPD had previously confiscated from panhandlers in the city of Mobile. Some said things like “hungry and homeless” and “anything helps.”
That incident made national news within 24 hours, and Battiste said he often used the “insensitive gesture” those officers posted to demonstrate the power of social media and how quickly something can spread online. He also noted that, given the recent scrutiny of police by reformers and activists, what an officer might see as a harmless comment or joke could follow them for the rest of their career.
“We try to talk about the impact that social media can have on their jobs from things like negatively impacting their ability to testify at trials to putting their entire careers in jeopardy,” Battiste said. “There’s a clause in our social media policy that says if you post anything that brings the department into disrepute, you can be charged under our personnel general orders for conduct unbecoming of an officer. We remind officers that, in today’s climate, what they post can cause them to start looking for another career.”
Battiste said that’s something he particularly stresses to younger officers who are more active on social media, adding whether they’re in uniform or not, “people don’t forget you’re the police.”
He also said there have been some instances of officers reporting each other for things they’ve found offensive online, though he didn’t give any specific examples. While past social media activity of cadets are reviewed as they’re going through the hiring process, Battiste acknowledged that reviewing the accounts of current employees is something MPD could do a better job of in the future.
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