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Joplin City Councilman: Despite Assumptions, No Official Talks - KOAM TV 7

Joplin City Councilman: Despite Assumptions, No Official Talks of Reinstating Joplin Police Social Media Posts

Updated:
Joplin, MO -

UPDATE 1/18/2018

The Joplin Police Department's "incident spotlight" is returning, with the JPD posting on its Facebook page (one incident spotlight has already been included in the post):

"The #JPDIncidentSpotlight will be returning to our social media. The criteria that our department has developed and that we will utilize in order to help us decide which incidents to talk about will be:

• Arrests which the public deem beneficial to the welfare of their community (drugs, stolen property, DWI)
• Incidents that promote awareness of a certain crime or incident and encourage them to take extra steps to be safe and to protect their property
• Incidents that looked “large scale” to the community, where they want to know what happened with their officers in their city
• Names and more intimate details will NOT be included, more along the lines of how the spotlight was designed and started

We ask that everyone that chooses to comment on these stories keep the posts relative to the incident at hand. Any comments that are found to be threatening towards someone or that is off topic may be removed at our discretion.

Incident Spotlight

On Sunday (1/14/2018) at 5:08pm an officer stopped a gold Honda Accord at 17/ Connor. The female passenger attempted to exit the vehicle and the driver was moving around in the vehicle. Other officers arrived and 4 occupants in the vehicle were detained. A K9 alerted to the vehicle, allowing a search to be conducted. A small amount of marijuana was located along with officers locating an illegally altered .410 gauge single barrel shotgun. The barrel had been sawed off, the stock cut off and the serial number had been ground off. The 30-year-old male driver was arrested for being in possession of a defaced firearm and an illegally altered firearm. Good work by our officers in removing an illegaly altered firearm from a residential neighborhood."

UPDATE 1/17/2018

A well-known feature of the Joplin Police Department's Facebook page hasn't been updated, ever since the city manager suspended it last month.  The posts highlighted arrests and incident calls.

We received more e-mails, through the Sunshine Law, from City Hall.

In an e-mail from City Manager Sam Anselm last week to department heads, Anselm said if City Council directed him to reinstate JPD's incident spotlight, he would "accept that decision."  City Councilman Taylor Brown says City Council Tuesday night didn't give that direction, and it's unclear whether Anselm has decided to allow future incident spotlight posts.

"We said we wanted to just allow the city manager and police chief to engage in a conversation," says Brown.  "I think where some people assume it has been reinstated is because the police department does have a lot of support from its Council."

Tom Rogers started an online petition last Friday to bring back the incident spotlights.  The petition now has more than 5,500 signatures.  

"I think it's important in our community for the citizens to be heard," says Rogers.  "I don't know that we do a very good job of that."

Anselm said during Tuesday night's City Council meeting he will monitor all department's social media accounts to make sure they are following his guidelines.  In an e-mail last week to department heads, Anselm said those guidelines are "adapted from something I saw online and is probably found on posters in elementary school classrooms across the country...  Is it true?  Is it helpful?  Is it inspiring?  Is it necessary?  Is it kind?"

Anselm said in the e-mail "if you can't answer with a definitive yes to any or all of these questions, please consider whether you truly need to publish that post."

"I think there is a real value in continuing this conversation and making sure this is a good thing for the community," says Brown.

Brown supports the incident spotlight, even when the incidents may not put Joplin in the best spotlight.  But he says any identities of suspects must be left out.

During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Anselm said his decision to suspend the incident spotlight was "based on my belief that our organization should not provide entertainment for some at the expense of other citizens who were likely having one of their worst days when they interacted with our officers."

"These are valuable to us, so that we can assess, hey, what can we do to better assist our police department and how can we better equip ourselves to help, whether that be in prayer, whether that be in counsel," says Rogers.

Anselm declined an interview with us, instead sending us a statement he read at City CouncilClick here to view the newest e-mails we received through the Sunshine Law.

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A popular social media connection between Joplin police and the public is shut down.  The Joplin Police Department began posting "incident spotlight" reports on its Facebook page in August of last year.  The reports highlighted specific arrests and incident calls.  But e-mails we have obtained through the Sunshine Law show disagreements over those posts between the police department and City Hall.

E-mails show Joplin Police Chief Matt Stewart and Captain Trevor Duncan made the case for these online posts after City Manager Sam Anselm wrote to Stewart, "Please tell Captain Duncan to stop posting the incident spotlights...until we have a chance to talk about them again.  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."

In another e-mail to Stewart, Anselm asked if the incident spotlight posts are common in other cities, and if the posts are click-bait to get more Facebook likes.  Stewart replied that other police agencies have posts similar to JPD's incident spotlight, and it is not click bait.

"It tells people what to look out for," says Lamar resident Jacob Ruiz who visits Joplin.  "What to watch for.  What to be aware of when you're out."

But not all Joplin residents feel incident reports should be on police departments' social media pages.

"If I had a friend or someone who got arrested, and several other people got arrested that day, that would be offensive for him to be the highlight story on their Facebook page," says Lori Williams.

Police Captain Trevor Duncan wrote to Chief Stewart that 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.

Anselm declined an on-camera interview with us, instead sending us this statement:  "I've encouraged the police department to come up with other ideas to share information that will serve the public in a way that doesn't add to the negativity and divisiveness that currently exists in the online world."

 The Joplin Police Department reports no official complaints about its "incident spotlight" posts.

In a statement today, police department officials said they were given new guidelines today that don't support the incident spotlight as a continuing feature.

Click here to view all the e-mails we received as part of our Sunshine Law request.  (Low toner in one of the Joplin police printers made some documents faded.)

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