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Missouri town censors police department's social media reports

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City Hall told the Joplin Police Department to stop posting incident reports on social media. Emails obtained by KOAM-TV through the state’s Sunshine Law show the police department and city hall disagreed on the practice. (Facebook screenshot)

The city manager for Joplin, Missouri, wants to restrict what the Joplin Police Department can write on its Facebook page, KOAM-TV reported. At issue are crime incident highlights that provide a “popular social media connection” between the police and the public.

Joplin police began posting specific arrests and incident calls on its Facebook page in August. But emails obtained by KOAM through the state’s Sunshine Law show the police department and city hall disagreed on the practice.

Listing official incident and arrest reports is common on social media and through traditional media outlets. Police reports are generally considered public information if certain details are left off when no one is charged with a crime. In most cases, arrests are also considered public information.

Documents obtained by KOAM show that city manager Sam Anselm wrote to Joplin Police Chief Matt Stewart, and asked him to tell Capt. Trevor Duncan to stop posting the reports on social media. Anselm said the reports cause "divisiveness."

"Please tell Captain Duncan to stop posting the incident spotlights...until we have a chance to talk about them again," Anslem wrote. "I have a hard time seeing how they benefit the community. We can find other ways to highlight the positive activities of the department without creating and inviting divisiveness online."

Duncan defended the practice in an email to the police chief. He said the social posts are needed because they "let people know what officers are doing, what's going on in the Joplin community, and about officers' efforts to work hard and combat crime; unique cases of robbery, to drug busts, and public indecency," KOAM reported.

In another email, Anselm accused the department of trying to create click bait to get more Facebook likes. Stewart responded by saying other police agencies make similar posts, and it is not click bait.

The Joplin Police Department reported no official complaints from the public about the "incident spotlight" posts, according to KOAM.

The police department said it was given new guidelines that don't support the incident spotlight as a continuing feature. The guidelines, included in documents obtained by the TV station, tell the police department how and what it can post.

On Thursday, the department listed incident reports following requests from the public:

Earlier in the month, a Facebook user asked if the incident reports will continue and the received the  following reply:

KOAM TV 7

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