Alabama police chief addresses controversial ‘homeless quilt’ photo

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MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste is responding to a controversial photo that has gone viral on Facebook.

The photo shows two Mobile police officers holding up what is dubbed a “quilt” made of panhandling signs.

Chief Battiste spoke with News 5 late in the afternoon Monday, reiterating that this photo was not indicative of the department as a whole. He apologized, again, for the officers taking it to what he says was a level they should not have.

“I can see where some people may take issue with that,” said Charlie Harrison, as he reacted to the photo.

Outrage spread across social media Monday after the photo was shared across the country.

A Mobile Police officer posted the picture to Facebook, in the post that accompanied the picture, the officer wrote in part, “Hope you enjoy our homeless quilt!”

We showed the picture to people in downtown.

“I have mixed feelings, honestly I do. I don’t know what their intention was,” said Elaine Perry.

“I just honestly find that post kind of sickening, and yeah, I mean that an apology was a good thing to do. If they’re not really going to change anything about how they think, it’s really not going to do much,” said Lauren Ainsworth.

“It doesn’t offend me, I don’t know if it’s in the best taste because some people could find it offensive,” said Wayne Briske.

“I can 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,” said Harrison.

Mobile police say the post was immediately brought to the attention of the Chief.

“Once again, I’d like to apologize for the insensitive behavior of the officers, their actions are nowhere indicative of who we are as a department,” said Battiste.

Panhandling is illegal in downtown Mobile, and on private property, or be aggressive with panhandling. The officers in the picture from the 4th Precinct, which is along Airport Boulevard in West Mobile. The chief confirms 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. Homelessness, we do not intend to police or way out of homelessness,” said Chief Battiste.

The chief says in 2019, the department has made a total of 63 arrests involving illegal panhandling charges.

The numbers below were provided by the Mobile Police Department:

CHARGE201420152016201720182019
LOITERING OR CONGREGATING IN PARKS OR PLAYGROUNDSN/AN/AN/AN/A11
LOITERING OR VAGRANCYN/A121N/AN/AN/A
LOITERING VAGRANCY BEGGINGN/AN/A23127
PANHANDLING ORDINANCE VIOLATION377227N/AN/A30
PANHANDLING WITHIN THE VISITORS DOMAIN211420347
WANDERING ABROAD2710262131318
TOTAL85200112193063

The chief says the incident is under administrative investigation. News 5 asked if the officers in the photo would be disciplined, he told us once the investigation is complete, they will determine whether or not there will be punitive actions or if the officers will undergo further training.

His 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.”

 MOBILE CHIEF OF POLICE LAWRENCE BATTISTE

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