Calgary police apologize, cancel insensitive social media campaign, while also defending it

Calgary's top cop has apologized for a social media campaign that playfully mocked wanted individuals, contradicting a savvy social media constable who vigorously defended it just days earlier.

The ValenCrimes campaign was successful in many ways according to police but the Valentine's Day-themed posts were deleted online on Thursday.

"We recognized that while a good portion of the public supported the ValenCrimes initiative, we were persuaded by the thoughtful and well-reasoned commentary of the segment who expressed concern," said Chief Mark Neufeld in a statement. "We appreciate how the messaging could be received as lacking in sensitivity and respect.

"We appreciate the feedback you have provided regarding the 2020 ValenCrimes initiative and offer apologies to those who may have been offended."

The series of social media posts involved Valentine's Day cards themed for wanted individuals.

"We just took a DNA test & turns out we're 100% still looking for you" one CPS post read, referencing lyrics from singer Lizzo.

A criminal defence lawyer raised concerns, arguing that people featured were accused and had not been convicted.

In posts on Twitter that have now appear to have been deleted, Const. Mark Smith defended the posts, saying "the majority of Calgarians seem to approve." 

"There are literally thousands of positive comments from today's campaign. I guess as the saying goes, 'don't commit crime if you can't handle the heat!'" he wrote in response to one critic.

In his statement released Thursday, Neufeld said the use of humour tends to generate a higher response and tips than regular warrant posts.

"Generally speaking, the public response across all platforms was positive," he said. "We did note some variability between platforms. In particular, we received some thoughtful comments and dialogue on Twitter expressing concern that the ValenCrimes posts lacked sensitivity and may be stigmatizing for the individuals profiled." 

A review was conducted after the Family Day long weekend, Neufeld said, and it was determined that the campaign will not return in 2021.

"It is important for us to be regarded as a police service that cares about its citizens — all of them — and can be trusted even by those facing difficult situations [or] are involved with the criminal justice system," he said.