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Keep it 'positive,' police ordered as content dispute darkens Gilmanton police Facebook page

Union Leader Correspondent

January 16. 2018 11:44PM
The Gilmanton Police Department's Facebook page will not be active until guidelines are hashed out, town officials say. (FACEBOOK)

GILMANTON — Even though the police department’s Facebook page will be reactivated, reports of arrests and related mug shots will no longer be posted, selectmen said.

“We don’t see it as helping the town or being constructive. Give me a reason why you want to know if someone (was arrested) for DWI,” Selectmen Chairman Stephen McWhinnie said in response to questions residents raised at Monday night’s board meeting.

Some residents said they would want to know if someone is arrested for a sex offense and poses a potential risk to public safety.

McWhinnie responded that arrest records are public under the Right-to-Know law and can be obtained by going to the police department and requesting them.

“We wanted to keep it more positive, but would allow a mug shot if someone was wanted or the posting of video footage if the police were looking to identify someone,” McWhinnie said

He said selectmen asked last month that arrests and mug shots no longer be posted on the police department Facebook page and that existing posts be removed,

Instead, the information remained posted, according to McWhinnie. He said the town-owned Gilmanton Police Department Facebook page was renamed the Gilmanton Police Association on Dec. 27.

On Jan. 10, selectmen asked that the page be deactivated until a new policy could be established. The page went dark on Friday.

Gilmanton Police Sgt. Casey Brennan, who identified himself as the president of the Gilmanton Police Association at Monday’s meeting, said the association had agreed to remove all the mug shots from the page, but did not want to lose all of its followers.

“We want to keep all the positive stuff, but we don’t want to have to start from scratch,” said Brennan.

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to do that from the beginning,” questioned McWhinnie.

“I don’t know why you didn’t come and talk to us,” Brennan replied.

“It was sent to you in writing,” McWhinnie responded.

“I wasn’t privy to that,” Brennan said. “I’m just looking to keep our followers. We’re earned those names by all the positive things we’ve done. That’s they way I feel about it,” he said.

The board, whose other two members are Michael Jean and Marshall Bishop, voted to go into non-public session to discuss the issue.

They decided to allow the Gilmanton Police Department Facebook page to be reactivated for the purpose of notifying townspeople of public safety concerns, until a formal policy can be adopted.

Robert Cameron who identified himself as a taxpayer who is also involved in law enforcement, said social media is an important tool for police to obtain information from the public and for police to communicate with citizens.

“If they are agreeing to take off the negative stuff, it should go back up,” he said of the Facebook page.

Michael Wilson said that Brennan had agreed that arrest reports and mug shots would be removed and that only positive information would remain, but that the site remains dark.

“Doesn’t that amount to censorship?” Wilson asked.

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