The Mobile Police Department (MPD) is apologizing after receiving criticism from across the country over a photo that officers posted to social media depicting what they described as a “homeless quilt” made from various confiscated panhandling signs.
The post shows two officers holding the “quilt,” which is made of cardboard signs — some of which say things like “hungry and homeless” and “trying to make it, anything helps.” In the post, one officer states he and his co-worker are from MPD’s Fourth Precinct, which covers the Airport Boulevard area.
“Wanna wish everybody in the 4th precinct a Merry Christmas, especially our captain,” the post reads. “Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt. Sincerely, Panhandler patrol.”
According to MPD’s website, Capt. Rodney Greeley leads the fourth precinct.
Multiple screenshots of the post have been captured and have since been shared widely.
It has also been featured in several posts made on MPD’s Facebook profile and on the personal profiles of the two officers who appear to be seen in the picture: Preston McGraw and Alexandre Olivier.
The department has not officially confirmed the officers’ identities, though Chief Lawrence Battiste did issue an apology on Monday for the post, which he called an “insensitive gesture.”
“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 wrote. “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.”
The city of Mobile enacted a panhandling ordinance in 2010 to address the rise in “vagrants” asking for money in the burgeoning downtown entertainment district. A separate provision in the city ordinance prohibits panhandling in other areas of the city — like the Fourth Precinct. The laws have been controversial at times, but have also been supported by some local homeless advocacy groups.
In a 2015 interview, the director of Housing First said a majority of panhandlers in Mobile aren’t homeless and create a negative impression of the homeless population. MPD officials have made similar claims in the past, arguing there’s a difference between “vagrants” and “the homeless. In the same report, MPD indicated it made 269 arrests for panhandling over a four-month period.
If that’s the official position of the department, it seems to be betrayed by the term “homeless quilt” featured in the controversial social media post. Many people have since condemned the post on social media as ridiculing the homeless, while others have objected to criminalizing panhandling at all.
“You have an entire squadron apparently dedicated to terrorizing homeless people?” one commenter from Maryland wrote. “That’s disgusting. Those people are the reason people will never trust the police.”
Some commenters, many of whom seem to harbor a general disdain for law enforcement, have called for the officers to be suspended or even terminated. An MPD spokesperson didn’t provide details on any possible disciplinary action but did say, “When we have an issue with our officers displaying inappropriate conduct such as this, corrective action is taken.”
After the incident had become national news — including features on majors networks like Fox and NBC News — Mayor Sandy Stimpson released a statement condemning the officer’s “inappropriate” actions but also defending the MPD’s reputation as a whole.
“I am aware of the photo of our Mobile Police officers that was posted on Facebook. The photo was inappropriate and reflected poorly on the City of Mobile. We do not condone it and it is not consistent with the professionalism or the values of our Police Department,” Stimpson wrote on Twitter Tuesday evening. “Chief Battiste has apologized on behalf of the department and we are taking corrective steps. The City of Mobile is here to serve all of our citizens, with respect for all. It is the sworn duty of our officers to protect and serve. Day in and day out, they do an amazing job for our citizens – often for those in the most challenging circumstances. It is unfortunate when one poor decision overshadows the good work of so many. This has been a learning experience for all involved.”
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