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If you’ve ever wondered why public agencies have such ridiculously stringent social media policies (for instance, DHS employees can’t even view the agency’s Facebook page while at work), it’s likely because of unfortunate instances like the following.
A Texas state trooper charged with sexually assaulting two women during a traffic stop was providing them with “customer service,” says Dale Roberts, the executive director of the Columbia Police Officers Association (CPOA) and a professor at the University of Missouri. (The CPOA is a part of the Fraternal Order of Police, one of the country’s largest police unions.)
“It’s called Customer Service!” Roberts wrote in a March 27 Facebook post about the indictment of Texas State Trooper Kelly Helleson, who was charged with two counts of sexual assault after conducting an illegal roadside strip search of two women. “We just did it so they wouldn’t have to make the trip all the way down to the station,” he added.
Granted, Dale Roberts isn’t actually a government employee, but he is a member of a group that is pretty much inseparable from law enforcement. Roberts, through his personal Facebook account, has managed to portray the groups he represents as populated with the sort of people who laugh off serious police misconduct. As you can see in the screenshot archived by Keep Columbia Free, Roberts seemed to think that it was worth joking repeatedly about this indictment.
Obviously, Angel Dobbs and her niece Ashley probably don’t see the humor in the situation because they were the “situation.” Here’s a quick rundown of the events that led to Trooper Helleson’s indictment.
The two women were pulled over last year by Helleson and fellow trooper David Farrell (who was charged with theft when a bottle of prescription pills went missing from Dobbs’ vehicle after the illegal search) in Irving, Texas, after throwing a cigarette butt out the window of their car. Farrell came up to the car and claimed he smelled marijuana. When a search of the vehicle didn’t turn up any pot, he instructed Helleson to conduct a cavity search on the women, who Farrell said were “acting weird.” That’s when Helleson, in plain view of passing cars on Highway 161 (and the dashboard camera in her cruiser), stuck her hand down the back and front of both women’s pants, searching their genitals. To make matters worse, Helleson conducted both searches without changing her latex gloves. In short order, the Dobbs filed suit and video of the stop was posted on Youtube. [Following video possibly NSFW.]
As if his original post wasn’t offensive enough, Roberts followed it up with another pithy sexual assault joke, stating “Evidently, the [sic] searched them downtown without going downtown.” It should also be noted that Roberts has a hard time keeping his keyboard from overriding his better judgement. He was also criticized for a making a racist joke on the CPOA’s Facebook page (where he is an administrator) last month.
Government agencies and closely-aligned entities contain just as many badly behaving and ill-mannered people as any cross section of the populace. Harsh social media policies are a direct result of actions like these. It would be nice to see people like Roberts weeded out of influential organizations by this sort of offensive stupidity, but the most common reaction seems to be across-the-board social media restrictions. Muzzling people with policy is simpler than cleaning up any internet messes they might make.
Whether Roberts likes it or not, he is the face of the CPOA, whether posting on the association’s Facebook page or his personal one. He may just be “joking,” but his subject matter isn’t appropriate considering his position with the police union. Roberts is welcome to say whatever he wants, but the CPOA would be greatly served by ousting a repeat offender that portrays the organization in a negative light. Silence on this matter implies approval of Roberts’ comments and strongly suggests that many in the organization believe that abusing citizens is not only OK, but inherently funny.
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