ROY — A joke by the Roy police chief on Facebook agreeing not to violate suspects’ civil rights during the coronavirus pandemic has generated social media blowback and a subsequent apology from the lawman.
If “our friends and acquaintances in the criminal community” will refrain from crime during the pandemic, the Roy force “will agree to not violate any of your civil rights, make any false arrests, use excessive force or conduct unwarranted harassment of you,” read last week’s post from Chief Carl Merino.
The post counseled offenders that mixing illegal drugs with medication taken to aid a person who has the virus “is simply not a great idea,” and running from police while suffering a respiratory illness — such as that caused by the virus — is equally unwise.
Malik Dayo of Ogden, an activist who often protests about police behavior locally, responded on Facebook that Merino “is a disgrace to community policing and to the people that he supposedly serves.”
“I hope every attorney in the county just screenshoted the acknowledgement that those behaviors are business as usual for Roy City police,” another user, Anne Sampson Dunaway, responded.
Merino’s post later apparently was taken down, and the chief followed up with an entry explaining his comments were made in an effort to “be humorous.”
“In an attempt to make light of recent events, as well as address those who would prey on victims and take advantage of others’ goodwill during emergencies, some comments were made ... to the ‘criminal element’ of our society,” Merino’s second post said.
Roy police “respect and are sworn to protect and defend the civil rights of everyone,” he said. “Our record of doing so is impeccable.”
The chief said his comments were “made tongue in cheek in response to the incessant claims of civil rights violations made against us during arrests.”
“We are sorry that the post came across as offensive and we will try to be more articulate in our messaging in the future,” Merino said.
The department also posted a lengthy message explaining how officers will respond to requests for police assistance during the pandemic.
Efforts to contact Merino were unsuccessful.
The Orem Police Department also tried comedy as community closures mounted in response to the coronavirus epidemic.
“The City of Orem has closed to crime for the next two weeks,” a Facebook post said. “Please do not commit any vehicle burglaries, thefts, don’t do drugs, slap your spouse, or even think about parking a vehicle on the street for more than 72 consecutive hours … We will let you know when the crime ban has been lifted.”
In an interview, Dayo said Merino’s initial post was disappointing because there’s “such a big gap nationwide between police and the disenfranchised communities that they serve.”
“During a time of global pandemic we are experiencing as a society together, and him being a police official, it’s extremely irresponsible for him to joke about this,” Dayo said.
He also criticized the chief for “calling out people with drug addiction.”
“Drug addiction is a sickness that should be treated clinically,” Dayo said. “He’s looking at addicts with an us-against-them mentality, which is not helpful when communities are divided.”