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Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office disables all Facebook comments

  • 5 min read
The article was last updated by verifiedtasks on July 4, 2024.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has disabled comments on their Facebook posts due to the increasing complexity of moderating inappropriate content and maintaining public safety online.

Short Summary:

  • The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has stopped allowing comments on Facebook.
  • The decision was made over concerns about monitoring offensive and inappropriate content.
  • Other communication channels remain open for the public to provide tips, complaints, or requests.

On Wednesday, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) announced a significant change to its social media policy. Effective immediately, the Sheriff’s Office will no longer permit comments on its Facebook posts. This decision stems from the mounting challenges of monitoring prohibited content, which include obscenities, threats, defamatory remarks, and discrimination based on sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability.

“It is not the intent of the sheriff’s office for these posts to constitute a public forum,” stated the SCSO to underscore their stance.

The SCSO, like many law enforcement agencies, utilizes various platforms to keep the community informed and engaged. However, the necessity to filter through numerous comments that often include inappropriate or harmful content has become an increasingly burdensome task. This effort to ensure that interactions remain within constructive and positive realms aligns with the office’s broader mandate to protect public safety.

“We welcome citizen interaction by way of posting relevant comments to our social media pages and ask that you exercise reasonableness, courtesy, and respect for others,”

— Community Affairs Office, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

While social media comments are now off-limits, the SCSO assures the public that there remain multiple avenues through which they can communicate with the Sheriff’s Office. These include providing tips, reporting crimes, making complaints, and submitting public records requests. The community can utilize the official website at www.sarasotasheriff.org, contact Crime Stoppers at 941-366-8477 (366-TIPS), call the dispatch center at 941-316-1201, email at [email protected], or use the SCSO app available on both the Apple Store and Google Play.

The Community Affairs Office, which manages various communications including media interactions, news releases, and social media oversight, continues to provide a responsive and professional interface with the public. Director Evan Keats, Media Relations Specialist Dana Judge, Creative Communications Specialist Doug Johnson, and Multimedia Specialist Lia Fernandez, alongside their support team, ensure the communication flows effectively.
The office, staffed from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., is available at 941.861.4005 for general media inquiries.

“Our social media accounts are not monitored in real-time. For reporting crimes or seeking assistance, we direct the public to dial 911 or our non-emergency line at 941.316.1201,”

— Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Despite the halt on comments, the SCSO’s decision has not been without contention. Past incidents involving the Office’s social media activities have also prompted debates about the ethical boundaries of law enforcement’s online presence. In a recent scenario, the SCSO faced criticism after endorsing Governor Rick Scott’s Senate run on its Facebook page, viewed by many as a partisan move that blurred the lines between official duties and political campaigns.

Questions about the appropriateness of using a taxpayer-funded platform for political endorsements were raised by concerned citizens. Bill Thompson, a local resident, remarked, “Isn’t this the ‘official’ page of the SCSO? What is a political endorsement doing on this page? When did this become legal and/or ethical?” This sentiment was echoed by another resident who questioned the usage of public funds for such purposes.

Florida statute is explicit in its restriction against “public officers” using their position to influence electoral outcomes. However, the nuances get complicated considering the permissible activities for elected officers like sheriffs, which the courts have opined on under specific conditions. Legal experts note the complexity and potential misalignment with statutory purpose, as stated by Brendan Beery, a professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

“The purpose of the statute is to prevent civil servants from participating in partisan campaigns when it’s their job to serve all constituents without any appearance of bias or prejudice,”

— Brendan Beery, Professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School

Kaitlyn Perez, SCSO spokeswoman, asserted the Sheriff’s support for Governor Scott was rooted in the Governor’s track record with law enforcement-related legislation rather than as a partisan act. Yet, the controversy underscored the delicate balance law enforcement must maintain in public perception and operational transparency.

Moreover, the SCSO emphasizes its commitment to Florida’s Public Records Law, ensuring that community interactions via social media and other channels are conducted within established legal frameworks and public record retention schedules.

The decision to disable comments reflects an overarching intent to avoid conflicts and focus on the primary responsibility of ensuring community safety. By curbing problematic interactions on social media, the SCSO aims to improve the quality and safety of its digital footprint while providing clear and accessible pathways for public engagement through conventional and official means.

Moving forward, the Sheriff’s Office will continue to utilize its social media platforms to disseminate law enforcement and public safety-related information, requiring public engagement to adhere to stricter guidelines. This approach not only reduces the workload related to moderating contentious comments but also aligns with the professional standards expected by the agency and the community it serves.

In light of the changes, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office remains committed to fostering a transparent, responsive, and community-engaged approach in all its operations. The public is encouraged to stay connected through the numerous established communication channels and actively participate in community safety initiatives.

As the landscape of public interaction evolves, the SCSO’s step to disable social media comments serves as a measure to ensure focus on its core mission of serving and protecting Sarasota County’s residents without the additional noise and complexity of moderating increasingly contentious digital environments.