Why Maryland Cops Thought Live-Tweeting A Prostitution Sting Would Be A Great Idea
A Maryland police department plans to live-tweet a prostitution sting by the Prince George County Police next week, it announced Thursday. Calling it a "progressive" and "unprecedented social media tactic" (well, it's certainly the latter,) the department is hoping to spread the message that criminal acts aren't going to be tolerated. The initial reaction from netizens was less embracing and more WTF, but it's not the department's first foray into live-tweeting — in other words, you can see why some bright spark in the Maryland department thought this was a good idea.
The department has held "Tweet Alongs" before, including a stream of updates on arrests at a 2012 Redskins game. Prince George County Police has a decent presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Vine, so it's no surprise that they would take to the social network for another crime operation, particularly since the area has a serious prostitution problem.
What could be more of a problem is the "shaming" of trafficking victims or prostitutes that could possibly result from the live-tweets, since the department initially said that "suspect photos and information will be tweeted." True, officials could have been more sensitive in their approach and words, deeming prostitution as "the oldest profession." And it didn't help that its spokeswoman posted an update featuring a woman in handcuffs.
It wasn't exactly the smartest idea, and the PGPD likely didn't anticipate the backlash. On Thursday, the agency released a statement in an attempt to clear the air, saying the targets of the upcoming sting are "those who choose to solicit a prostitute, not prostitutes themselves." The statement reads:
The intent all along has been to put on notice and/or arrest the very people who exploit women and even young girls in our community. We're hoping the advance notice we've provided acts as a deterrent to would-be johns who choose to engage in this illegal behavior. This is another example of our department's commitment to transparency. We'll give our community real-time access to the PGPD's Vice Unit which is dedicated to shutting down this type of illicit business and seeking help for its victims.
Clearly the incident was a PR fail, but hardly a social media stunt. The department has posted mug shots and photos on its social media pages even before Thursday's announcement. Also notable is the fact that the PGPD spokeswoman, Julie Parker, is a former TV reporter, which could explain the focus on the method of disseminating information.
"So much of what a law enforcement agency does is behind the scenes, and the community is really intrigued by that work," Parker told USA Today. "We're simply putting it out in a very public forum."
Prostitution is primary focus for the police department, as Prince George County has battled with the issue for several years. In 2012, officers arrested 81 people as a result of a prostitution sting in College Park hotels. Police have been known to crack down on "lunch-time prostitution."
In their latest action, PGPD may not have been the most tactful, but taking to Twitter probably seemed like a logical approach. There have been repeated efforts to address the situation: in 2013, a Prince George council proposed a bill targeting homes with ongoing crime, including prostitution. An increase in sex trafficking via the Internet has also forced police to reevaluate their approach and even led to the establishment of specific vice squad to combat the rise in the area.