A controversial photo of two Mobile, Alabama police officers holding up what one dubbed a "quilt" made of panhandling signs has gone viral, reports the CBS affiliate there, WKRG-TV. The city's police chief is apologizing for it.
Lawrence Battiste said the image in the Facebook post isn't indicative of the department as a whole and the officers took things to a level they shouldn't have. He told the station their behavior was "insensitive."
The incident is under administrative review and a decision on what, if any, disciplinary action will be taken against the officers will be made once the review is complete, Battiste said.
Outrage spread across social media Monday as the photo was shared across the country.
The Mobile officer who posted the picture wrote in the post, in part, "Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt!"
Mobile police say the post was immediately brought to the Battiste's attention.
Panhandling is illegal in downtown Mobile, and on private property, as is aggressive panhandling.
WKRG said the officers in the picture were from the 4th Precinct, and Battiste confirmed the majority of the signs were taken from the 4th Precinct.
"I take full responsibility for making sure we have an aggressive stance on dealing with panhandlers because it impacts the safety of our community. … (But) we do not intend to police or way out of homelessness," Battiste said.
The department has made 63 arrests this year involving illegal panhandling, he said.
WKRG showed the picture to people downtown.
"I just honestly find that post kind of sickening, and yeah, I mean that an apology was a good thing to do. (But) if they're not really going to change anything about how they think, it's really not going to do much," said Lauren Ainsworth.
Charlie Harrison commented that he could "see where some people may take issue with that. It's just kind of the context there at the end of the post, panhandler patrol. Because that makes it seem like they're chasing people off and they're taking their signs."
Elaine Perry said she had "mixed feelings, honestly I do. I don't know what their intention was."
And Wayne Briske said, "It doesn't offend me, I don't know if it's in the best taste because some people could find it offensive."
Battiste's full statement:
"As a police department entrusted with serving and protecting our community, we offer our sincerest apology for the insensitive gesture of a Facebook post by two of our officers where they are holding up a homeless "quilt" made of panhandling signs. 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. 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."
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